Thursday, July 18, 2019

Today by Paddy Manning

Rebuilding confidence
Re-regulation of the construction industry starts today

Federal industry minister Karen Andrews. AAP Image / Bianca De Marchi

There is not much patience for partisan politics when it comes to building regulation, with all sides and the property industry itself recognising that the system is in crisis. The deal [$] at today’s meeting of building ministers to implement all 24 recommendations of the 2018 Shergold-Weir report into the sector is a clear win for Federal Industry Minister Karen Andrews, and a step towards restoring public faith in the system that has been shaken by the Lacrosse fire in Melbourne and recent evacuations in Sydney. Set aside this week’s argument between the Commonwealth and Victoria over who should bear the cost of removing combustible cladding – Karen Andrews and Treasurer Josh Frydenberg have simply refused to accept responsibility, even though the federal government clearly has a part to play overseeing the development of and adherence to the National Construction Code. More significant is the recognition, including on the conservative side of politics, that self-regulation “hasn’t worked” in the building industry, as NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said last week.

The “Building Confidence” report, by former Howard-era head of the prime minister’s department Peter Shergold and lawyer Bronwyn Weir, was pretty damning of the decline of confidence in building regulation around the country over the past 25 years – and that was before the evacuation of Sydney’s Opal Tower hit the headlines, followed by apartment buildings in Mascot and Zetland.

The short executive summary is a sobering read. The authors wrote:

We have read numerous reports which identify the prevalence of serious compliance failures in recently constructed buildings. These include non-compliant cladding, water ingress leading to mould and structural compromise, structurally unsound roof construction and poorly constructed fire resisting elements. We have heard suggestions that large numbers of practitioners operating in the industry either lack competence, do not properly understand the [National Construction Code] and/or have never had proper training on its implementation.

They continued:

We found that, until relatively recently, there has been almost no effective regulatory oversight of the commercial building industry by regulators. Those involved in high-rise construction have been left largely to their own devices. Where there has been supervision, this has generally been by private building surveyors [or certifiers] whom critics argue are not independent from builders and/or designers.

Acknowledging that the construction industry had a “keen self-awareness of the problems that exist”, the report called on all jurisdictions – including the Commonwealth – to work together over three years to implement recommendations covering the whole system, including the registration and training of practitioners, regulatory oversight and focusing on the integrity of private building surveyors. The report was scathing of the impact of private certification, finding that it had reduced the capacity of local government building authorities, carried an inherent potential for conflict of interest, was subject to minimal oversight, and had “compounded many of the problems we have been asked to examine”.

Earlier this week, Karen Andrews told Sky News Australia host Peta Credlin that many of the buildings with combustible cladding should never have been signed off at all because the National Construction Code restricts cladding on buildings over three storeys. “The issue is one of the states not complying with the relevant building codes in their state and not enforcing those building regulations,” she said, adding they had “known this was coming for a very long time, and some of those states left it to five minutes to midnight, or, in some cases, five minutes past midnight, to even act”. Andrews, herself an engineer, had to abandon the idea of a new Commonwealth-funded taskforce to implement the recommendations of the Shergold-Weir report. Instead the Australian Building Codes Board, whose secretariat sits within her own department, will do the work, which was immediately welcomed by the insurance industry. Whether or not the Shergold-Weir recommendations go far enough to fix a broken regulatory system, it’s a start.

“Newstart is a hard life… If someone’s on Newstart in a town like Woolbrook, it’s going to cost you $50 to go to Tamworth to do the groceries or go to a job interview. They live in those places because the rent’s cheap but the rent’s cheap because it’s a long way from the services.”

Former Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce argues for an increase to Newstart.

“What I want [the select committee] to do is actually find those success stories, and to have that as an encouragement, because rural Australia is not broken … The bush is surviving, and the bush will thrive and the bush will do better because of the collective efforts of everybody who’s involved.”

At the Bush Summit in Dubbo today, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announces a new House of Representatives select committee to look into the needs of rural and regional Australia as part of his plans for agriculture, fisheries and forestry to be worth $100 billion by 2030.

Understanding Scott Morrison’s Pentecostalism
To understand Scott Morrison, it helps to understand his faith. Tanya Levin is a former Pentecostal who argues that the church informs every aspect of his politics.

The annual salary of Wayne Byres, chair of failed regulator APRA, whose resignation Senator Rex Patrick has called for today.

“Today we have published an historic draft rule on opening up the wholesale electricity market for competitive demand response – it’s potentially an important turning point in helping to reduce wholesale prices, as well as making the system more reliable and keeping the lights on. There are particular periods of time where the value some consumers obtain from using electricity during that period is less than the efficient costs of supplying it. In these circumstances it is much more cost effective to offer these consumers a price to reduce demand than to add to supply. And for the first time, that is exactly what we are proposing through this new draft rule.”

The Australian Energy Market Commission, moving at the glacial pace for which it is famous, announces a new draft rule to introduce a demand response mechanism into the wholesale electricity market.

The list

“As you pass the ‘turn off all phones’ sign and set off on the 4-kilometre drive to CSIRO’s Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex at Tidbinbilla, the first thing that catches your eye is the radio telescope looming above the rolling green fields. Deep Space Station 43, whose mighty dish is 70 metres in diameter, is the largest steerable radio antenna in the southern hemisphere ... It’s therefore easy to miss the much smaller telescope near the car park, its 26-metre dish pointed permanently at the sky ... Though few are aware of it, this telescope is how we received the first images of man setting foot on the Moon.”

“In the high-density urban growth areas of Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth, [Sydney solicitor Stephen] Goddard believes, the decade-long thrust upward that has transformed skylines has inevitably spawned faulty buildings subject to water penetration, or fire, collapse or cracking, through a variety of defects.”

“There has been a cultural shift in Australia. In some sectors, underpaying is the new normal – not just in the black economy, where there’s no superannuation or workers compensation or annual leave, but also in the formal economy, through the shirking of award rates or penalties ... It’s a trend that is hard to quantify, and harder still to police, mostly occurring in small businesses, like thousands of little spot fires that the under-resourced Fair Work Ombudsman cannot keep up with. Occasionally there will be a flare-up. 7-Eleven, Caltex. Large employers with systemic cultures of exploitation.”

Paddy Manning

Paddy Manning is contributing editor (politics) at The Monthly and has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is the author of Inside the Greens and the unauthorised biography of Malcolm Turnbull, Born To Rule?


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