The differences in construction regulations and practitioner registration requirements between the states and territories have been a huge challenge for the Australian construction industry. A change could be on the way, however, with the release of a draft framework for a consistent national approach to roles, responsibilities and credentials.
Working across state lines in Australia doesn’t just pose a logistics challenge; it also means adjusting to variations in regulations. This includes building standards, practitioner licencing, and even the names for key roles like the professionals who inspect and certify works.
It was an issue identified in the recent How We Build Now 2020 report, with close to three-quarters of firms surveyed. Therefore, there is a clear need for a federated set of building standards. A national approach to building regulations, practitioner roles and registration requirements was also a key recommendation of the Shergold + Weir Building Confidence report.
While the National Construction Code (NCC) is a national document, a spokesperson for the NSW Department of Fair Trading explained the states and territories are primarily responsible for the regulation of building and plumbing work, through compliance and enforcement activities.
“There are differences between how the individual states and territories approach compliance and enforcement,” the spokesperson said. “The NCC does allow state and territory ‘variations’ which means that states and territories can elect to adopt or not adopt specific provisions of the Code. However, the variations are not numerous.
“These variations are generally limited and often reflect specific policy requirements within that particular state or territory. States and territories are committed to reducing variations where possible.”
At the How We Build Now webinar, NSW Building Commissioner David Chandler said there is “no value in new state-specific approaches” to improving construction quality and compliance. He noted NSW will only be building new assurance processes that have “multi-jurisdictional capability.”
Chandler stated the industry needs to “decide what everyone could all do the same way before innovating further.”
For instance, there is broad agreement on nationally-consistent practitioner registration, roles, and responsibilities for selected professions and trades.
The Australian Building Codes Board’s Building Confidence Report (BCR) Implementation Team recently released a draft National Registration Framework for consultation. Feedback from stakeholders is now being analysed. Once the NRF is finalised, it will be presented to the board of the ABCB and then to the Building Ministers Forum.
The Australian Construction Industry Forum (ACIF) has welcomed the initiative. Executive Director James Cameron said that its proper implementation should provide greater national productivity and ease of movement of tradespeople and professionals across the nation.
Chartered Builder and Certified Quantity Surveyor Norman Faifer said he sees a major stumbling block in industry reform—the separation of Federal and State/Territory powers.
“Building and construction is a state issue with the Federal Government only being responsible for national infrastructure (highways, transport, defence and certain educational facilities),” Faifer said.
He said “each and every jurisdiction must come on board to promulgate a common, consistent set of laws, regulations and guidelines” to support and complement the already nationally-agreed Building Code of Australia (BCA) and National Construction Code documents. “If … the states do their own thing, then harmonisation will not occur.”
Faifer, who is also Chair of ACIF, said lack of nationally consistent practitioner registration reduces opportunities to work in different states. In some cases, crossing borders and performing work permitted in one state is not allowed in another at professional, paraprofessional, vocational and tradesmen levels.
“The classification of professional, paraprofessional, vocational and tradesmen in each state differs, what one is permitted, licensed or registered to do in one state may not be consistent throughout both in levels of work and classifications.
“All levels of professional, para-professional, vocational and tradesmen should be universally covered; at professional level Victoria is the only state that registers quantity surveyors, at tradesman level, Western Australia is the only state that covered painters—there are many differences in the state lists.”
Faifer noted that there is already a national approach to training.
“The professional institutes and associations accredit university courses as do federal and state governments through the Australian Qualifications Framework system (AQF). There is common ground in the TAFE, VET, vocational and tradespersons training in that TAFEs whilst being state-based conform with the AQF rankings.”
He said apprentices should be able to travel with their sponsors or mentors over state borders and still be consistent in their training and delivery of their work. This would aid in the recruitment of vocational trainees and new tradespeople.
“The attractiveness of entering the building and construction industry at a professional level can only be enhanced by universal recognition.”
There are other issues where Faifer argues for a national approach.
“The transference of roles, powers, duties, responsibilities and risk within the building industry must be revised and reset,” Faifer said. “The NRF document must recognise the differences between architect and building designer (separate Architects Acts), and the definition of the various fire safety/protection engineers, consultants and installers must be set along with clear accreditation rules for fire-related persons.”
In addition, the NRF does not address the on-site building practitioner and the level of qualifications and experience required by builders.
“Allied to all this is how the owner, developers and principals operate and how head contractors/builders contract with their suppliers and subcontractors; time, cost and quality come into this equation as does the transference of risk.
“The transference and acceptance of risk by entities lower in the chain and who are not ‘qualified’ to accept that risk also has ramifications on the resultant end product.”