Australasian building certification forum
Australia’s building control industry is facing many of the same performance issues as New Zealand’s. Australian state and territory governments are responding to such issues via a range of strategies, some of which are similar to those recently introduced in New Zealand by the Building Act 2004. Such strategies include:
- new regulatory accreditation schemes for regulatory building control providers
- professional indemnity insurance requirements
- complaint and investigation processes
- new education and competency requirements.
The Australasian Building Certification Forum is a group of regulatory building control managers from each of the state and territory governments in Australia and from New Zealand’s Department of Building and Housing. It meets to exchange ideas on good practice in regulatory building control management and reform from a state/federal regulator perspective.The Forum met for the first time in Sydney in February 2005.
In May 2006, Malcolm MacMillan, Manager Performance Monitoring and Review from the Department’s Regulatory Compliance business unit, attended the second Forum in Brisbane. The main points of discussion at the forum included:
- accreditation and regulation of building officials
- problems being faced to recruit and retain sufficient numbers of building officials
- mutual recognition of building control qualifications across jurisdictions
- best-practice processes to manage and investigate complaints against building officials
- professional indemnity insurance requirements for building certifiers.
The Forum provided some useful insights into the building control issues faced by Australia and
New Zealand, along with how each country is working to resolve these issues.
Regulation of building officials
No national legislation exists to govern the building industry in Australia. Each state or territory has its own legislation to govern the industry in its jurisdiction. Consequently, there are eight different Building Acts in Australia, one for each state and territory. Furthermore, only four out of the eight jurisdictions have specifically mandated in legislation that building surveyors (the equivalent of building officials in New Zealand) must achieve Australian Institute of Building Surveyors (AIBS) accreditation before applying for registration with their state or territory government. The AIBS is an industry-based body that accredits building officials, and provides leadership for the industry in the areas of education, quality and performance.
Problems with recruiting and retaining building surveyors
As is the case in New Zealand, all Australian jurisdictions are finding it difficult to ensure adequate numbers of skilled and competent building officials. Australia has in place rigorous academic requirements for becoming a registered building surveyor. This is one initiative that is helping to ensure well trained and competent building control officers enter the market. However, all Australian jurisdictions are still facing significant capacity issues, including problems with the length of time it is taking to train building control officers to a standard where they can enter the market.
To counter such problems, some Australian jurisdictions are considering options such as introducing ‘step-off points’. The aim is to develop career opportunities in building control that correlate with lesser qualifications than a degree to cater for less complicated building control work (for example, farm and light residential buildings). Effort is also being made to ensure people can contribute economically much earlier.
As a means of addressing human resource shortages, AIBS in Queensland facilitates a cadetship scheme. This allows organisations to employ unqualified building surveyors as cadets to help with certain regulatory building control work, as long as they are undertaking a course of study that meets AIBS standards for accreditation. AIBS has indicated that firms are increasingly adopting this cadetship option and investing in the next generation of building officials.
Work is also under way in Australia to actively raise the profile of regulatory building control as a career option for those in secondary school.
Mutual recognition of building qualifications
A long-term objective of the Forum is to work towards a system of mutual recognition of building qualifications to help the flow of human resource between jurisdictions. Currently, tertiary training and education institutions do not offer equivalent building surveying courses across Australian jurisdictions. This makes it difficult to compare qualifications being offered should a surveyor wish to move to a different state or territory.
Complaint and investigation systems
Managing complaints against building officials was one of the key topics of the Forum. It was agreed that a rigorous complaints process should be:
- based on the principles of natural justice (for example, the subject of a complaint must have access to justice and information, the right of a hearing, and a right of reply)
- transparent and open
- efficient and timely
- technically and legally sound, and involve all necessary professional expertise
- clearly articulated to the complainant, including the process, timeframes and possible outcomes.
The forum noted the complaints process developed by New South Wales. This requires complaints to be provided in writing, to be properly identified and not anonymous, to clearly specify the alleged breach, and to be accompanied by a statutory declaration. All of these factors are a good deterrent for frivolous and vexatious complaints.
Professional indemnity insurance for building certifiers and surveyors
Like New Zealand, each Australia jurisdiction has had to work through issues of consumer protection and professional indemnity insurance for private building controls. 2001 and 2002 were difficult years for the professional indemnity market in Australia. Premiums increased substantially and some jurisdictions were forced to decrease their requirements as there were so few insurers in the market at the time.
However, there is now an oversupply of insurers in Australia with a relatively low level of indemnity claims at present. Premiums have decreased by 30 percent since 2002, and a further decrease of 15 percent is expected by the end of 2006.
New Zealand’s building consent authority accreditation and registration scheme
Discussions with counterparts at the Australasian Building Certification Forum were extremely useful and informative. A significant amount of knowledge was gained about the regulatory building control environment, and accreditation and registration schemes operating in Australia. This is highly relevant to the Department’s current work on the building consent authority accreditation and registration regime, particularly consumer protection requirements, complaints and investigation processes, and education and competency requirements for building consent authorities.
Similar institutions in Australia have had to resolve many of the issues faced by the Department. Many lessons can be learnt to improve our processes here in New Zealand.
Further information about New Zealand’s building consent authority accreditation and registration scheme can be found online at www.dbh.govt.nz