Minister for Better Regulation Matt Kean has vowed to crackdown on ‘cowboy’ certifiers following the evacuation of Sydney Olympic Park’s Opal Tower on Christmas Eve. Residents of the 36-storey building were forced to evacuate due to fears of the structural integrity following ‘cracking sounds’ and the collapse of a concrete panel. The building has since been declared structurally safe however independent experts warned that residents delay moving back until further investigations have been undertaken.
On 22 February 2018, Peter Shergold and Bronwyn Weir published a national report commissioned by the Building Ministers’ Forum: Building Confidence – Improving the effectiveness and compliance and enforcement systems for the building and construction industry across Australia.
In February 2019 the Government published the NSW Government Response to the Shergold Weir Building Confidence Report . The report outlines changes that focus on reconfiguring the building and construction industry through robust licensing and registration reforms; with the underlying aim of establishing a duty of care to homeowners. Minister Keans has described the changes as the ‘biggest shake-up in building laws in our state’s history.’
Through the implementation of a number of ‘very good reforms’, the proposed laws aim to increase security for homeowners and ensure the availability of compensation for negligence in the design and construction of a building.
The key changes include:
- The Government’s plan to appoint a Building Commissioner. The Commissioner will have numerous responsibilities including but not limited to the administration of all building laws and undertaking an audit of 30% of the building industry every year.
- Registration schemes. The building commissioner will develop a register that includes a jurisdictional breakdown and registration of building practitioners involved in the design, construction and maintenance of buildings. The register will detail which building practitioners have the authority to declare the compliance of works. In addition, there will be a ‘name and shame’ register made public, detailing the quality and reputation of builders, certifiers and other members of the industry to provide transparency for homeowners before they engage construction personnel.
- Licensing overhaul. Participants involved in the design process of construction would have to submit their plans to the Building Commissioner, declaring their compliance with the necessary supporting documents. Tradesmen associated with the construction of the job will then have the responsibility to declare they have completed the construction in lines with the plans. The Building Commissioner can then audit works as necessary.
- The response emphasises the responsibility and accountability of the chain of command, placing an onus on all participants in the building and construction industry. By ‘requiring designers to sign off on their designs, and builders to build their buildings in line with those designs,’ it makes compensation caused by a building practitioner’s negligence a viable option for homeowners.
It is good news for owners and builders in the Building industry. While engineers, architects and designers have always had an obligation to properly prepare, certify and design their works, it was often the builder that shouldered all the blame where a design issue arose.
Any claim by the owner, would be made through the builder, even if it was evident that the issue in the works was a result of the designs.
The Opal Tower defects highlighted the difficulties in the building industry and has spurred the Government to react accordingly. Peer reviewed, detailed specifications and designs on projects of all shapes and sizes will only increase the confidence in the building industry, which is critical considering the vital role it plays in our community.
 NSW Government Response to the Sherfold Weir Building Confidence Report. URL: https://www.fairtrading.nsw.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0007/451375/Response-to-Shergold-Weir-Building-Confidence-Report.pdf
 Shergold and Weir National Report: Building Confidence – Improving the effectiveness of compliance and enforcement systems for the building and construction industry across Australia. URL: https://aibs.com.au/Public/News/2018/ShergoldWeir.aspx
Disclaimer: This publication by Morrissey Law & Advisory is for general information and commentary only and should not be considered or relied upon as legal advice. Formal legal advice should be sought in relation to any matters or transactions that may arise in relation with communication.