In a matter of hours, the Professional Engineers Registration Bill 2019 will be debated in Victoria’s Upper House to determine whether it will become law.
The bill passed through the state’s Legislative Assembly in May this year with 52 votes in favour and 22 votes against. If enacted, it will introduce a mandatory registration scheme for engineers in Victoria, bringing greater transparency and professional rigour to the industry.
Engineers Australia has long advocated for compulsory registration in all states. The Victorian bill comes at a time when public confidence has been shaken by revelations of construction defects in several high-rise residential buildings, including Opal Tower and Mascot Towers in Sydney, and the Australia 108 residential building in Melbourne.
Alesha Printz, General Manager of the Victorian Division of Engineers Australia, said support for the bill is fuelled by a need for community safety.
“When the public hears that engineers don’t need to be registered, they’re shocked,” said Printz.
“If doctors and lawyers need registration, why not engineers? Without registration, how else does the public know that the buildings, infrastructure and the assets that we require for our quality of life are being created by engineers with the right qualifications and level of competence?”
Queensland is currently the only state in Australia with a mandatory registration for engineers. In other parts of the country, anyone can provide engineering services without having the necessary qualifications and experience to practise.
An engineering registration scheme is overwhelmingly supported by both members of Engineers Australia and the general public. In a national poll commissioned by Engineers Australia in July this year, almost 90 per cent of people believe that engineers should be registered to practise in Australia. In Victoria, support for registration exceeds 85 per cent of respondents and is consistently high across demographics.
“The vast majority of Engineers Australia members are also in favour of registration,” said Printz.
“We’ve spent a lot of time consulting with our members. They understand the complexity of engineering work and support the sentiment of a registration to help improve public safety.”
Setting the standards
If passed on Tuesday, the legislation will ensure engineers on the Victorian register meet appropriate minimum standards. While details of competency requirements will be subject to further consultation with industry, they are expected to include: an accredited four-year qualification; at least five years’ experience working as a professional engineer in a relevant field; and a requirement to undertake 150 hours of Continuing Professional Development over the course of three years.
Members who are on Engineers Australia’s voluntary National Engineering Register, which was introduced in 2015, will be deemed to have met those requirements. While the scheme will cover civil, electrical, mechanical, structural and fire safety engineers, there is scope to add other engineering disciplines.
Jonathan Russell, National Manager – Public Affairs at Engineers Australia, said Engineers Australia will act as an assessing authority within the new registration scheme.
“We play a similar role in Queensland, along with other organisations,” he said.
“While the government has the authority to enforce the rules, bodies like ours have the capacity and the experience to advise the government on who should be considered an engineer.”
Reducing red tape
Victoria looks set to follow Queensland’s lead if the bill passes on Tuesday, and momentum for an engineering registration is building across the country. In New South Wales, for example, a recent government discussion paper, Building Stronger Foundations, called for submissions for proposed reforms to the building and construction sector.
Russell said Engineers Australia is advocating for an alignment of registration across borders.
“Our understanding is that the Victorian regulations will closely mirror those in Queensland,” he said.
“Just as there is alignment across the states for registration in the architecture profession, mutual recognition is required for engineering in order to reduce red tape and to ensure that registered engineers can work on projects across the country.”
Strengthening the industry
While a previous version of the Victorian bill was proposed in early 2018, Printz said it “languished in Parliament”.
“It passed the Lower House, but it never made it to debate in the upper house, which was disappointing” she said.
“We can’t understand why there would not be support for this bill. It’s just too important an issue for politics to be played. Yes, there is detail that needs to be finalised in regulations, but we do not see this as any reason to prevent support of the bill.”
Printz added that Engineers Australia will continue to advocate for any measures that boost public safety and strengthen the industry.
“We’ll be keeping a very close close eye on regulations as they are developed to ensure that the system designed for implementation is one that really works for the profession,” she said.
“It must be fit for purpose.”