The Builders Collective of Australia has called on the Prime Minister to set up a Royal Commission to look into the residential construction industry in Australia.

Describing the system as broken, the president of the Builders Collective, Phil Dwyer says the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal in William Street, Melbourne is virtually under siege from disputes between developers/ builders and ordinary citizens.

Dwyer said these cases accounted for 72 percent of the hearing and conciliation time at the latest estimate.

“Our legislators need to reflect very seriously on a mood out here in the land of Joe and Jill Average that is gathering momentum every time we hear or read of good, hard-striving, fellow citizens who have been dudded by bad dwelling design, greedy developers who have facilitated the cutting of corners, or builders who work purely on a basis of expediency, and that these failings have been made easier by a misguided ideology and the inaction by those with the power to have done something about it,” Dwyer says.

“The bad designer, the greedy developer, the ultra-expedient builder/ tradesman might win an argument in the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal against Joe or Jill on the basis of bigger money buys the better advocate, but a properly constituted judicial enquiry, ideally a Royal Commission with nationwide coverage would surely not be a place to dodge the fact that the system is badly broken and in need of a complete revamp.

“Last week’s VCAT judgment in regards to the Lacrosse apartment tower fire is the outcome that we have been fighting for years – to make our practitioners accountable for their inappropriate actions by our regulator, which enforces compliance of the existing regulations that if implemented widely would create a compliant industry.”

While the Builders Collective has welcomed the judgement, Dwyer says it must be taken as a chance to move this industry forward.

“Conflicts of interest, poor oversight from regulating bodies, and seeming indifference from Governments ensure that regulations, standards, and expectations are not being met in modern-day Australia,” he says.

A paper submitted directly to Prime Minister Scott Morrison by the Builders Collective highlights key points that have emerged in recent years:

  • Decline in strict compliance to standards in the building sector began with the deregulation/ privatisation of the various inspection regimes around Australia, commencing in the mid-1990s;
  • Privatisation of building certifiers/ surveyors;
  • The virtual collapse of Builder’s Warranty Insurance (BWI) in 2001 with the demise of HIH Insurance, only to be replaced by the HIA’s own scheme, and the developer-friendly ‘ten-point plan’ that still poses as a BWI scheme;
  • Major shift toward higher density living in the past 15+ years – apartment towers are now home to a large and increasing percentage of the Australian population.

Australia’s pre-eminent consumer advocate CHOICE has stated that BWI is of no value, while National Insurance Brokers (NIBA) has described BWI as a ‘house of horrors’ and ‘notoriously flawed in most states’.

According to Dwyer, the Opal apartments fiasco, and cladding-fuelled fires at the Lacrosse and Neo200 towers demand a Royal Commission into the once-proud building industry.

There is a serious price to pay in the absence of a proper compliance regime in place. Courts are bogged down with disputes; worker absenteeism due to damaged or lost homes is causing loss of productivity; accommodation of people denied access to their regular homes; increasing insurance premiums; and government and public assistance grants.

Observing that the human cost can be immeasurable, and beyond the comprehension of those who have never faced these circumstances, Dwyer says Australia needs an urgent Royal Commission into the national building industry before people start losing lives.