The Truth Behind the ‘Consumer Protection Reform Strategy’

                        The Truth Behind the                        ‘Consumer Protection Reform Strategy’

Anne Paten in Sourceable 6 July 2015 109 shares 23 Comments
https://sourceable.net/the-myth-and-reality-of-the-consumer-protection-reform-strategy/

Mythical reform

After the damaging Auditor-General’s Report of 2011 and the Ombudsman’s Report of 2012, there was much public comment on the disturbing revelations of failed governance and maladministration.
This forced a government response. The public officials were well prepared, and immediately after the release of the Ombudsman’s Report, Planning Minister Matthew Guy announced that oversight of the building industry would be reformed. The reality reveals that the ‘reform strategy’ was once again a misleading myth.
Much was promised in the campaign launch. Guy said there would be “a fresh start for building regulation.” The Building Commission would be gone and in its place, the Victorian Building Authority (VBA) would act as a “strong regulator.” Over the following months, we learned that there was a ‘Reform Strategy’ with the VBA to become a one-stop shop, responsible for everything: practitioner registration and discipline, regulation, enforcement, dispute resolution and even insurance.

After the damaging Auditor-General’s Report of 2011 and the Ombudsman’s Report of 2012, there was much public comment on the disturbing revelations of failed governance and maladministration.
This forced a government response. The public officials were well prepared, and immediately after the release of the Ombudsman’s Report, Planning Minister Matthew Guy announced that oversight of the building industry would be reformed. The reality reveals that the ‘reform strategy’ was once again a misleading myth.
Much was promised in the campaign launch. Guy said there would be “a fresh start for building regulation.” The Building Commission would be gone and in its place, the Victorian Building Authority (VBA) would act as a “strong regulator.” Over the following months, we learned that there was a ‘Reform Strategy’ with the VBA to become a one-stop shop, responsible for everything: practitioner registration and discipline, regulation, enforcement, dispute resolution and even insurance.
have been denied the opportunity to readily find this most basic information on the website of the putative ‘regulator.’ In reality, non-enforcement means that there really are no requirements. This make-believe ‘regulator’ makes a mockery of our laws and the touted ‘reforms.’ The cowboy practitioners are protected and the VBA has been complicit in enabling consumers to be robbed of their legal rights.
In relation to accessing information in the public interest, neither the VBA and Department of Transport Planning nor Local Infrastructure (DTPLI) have shown a willingness to give consumers access to documents. Over the last three years, the VBA and the DTPLI commissioned three reports, two on practitioner registration by Deloitte and PwC (costing $135,000), and one on slab heave. The VBA has withheld all three reports from those seeking access. This would suggest that the reports were very negative, but that does not entitle the public officials to hide such information. Consumers have a right to the facts and to be able to make informed choices.
Since the VBA has been operating as the ‘regulator’ for almost two years, let us review its performance. The Annual Report for 2013-2014 provides the scorecard. The CEO, Prue Digby informs us that the VBA’s core regulatory function is audits. So how many domestic builders, limited or unlimited were audited under Digby’s direction last year? From the look of things, not a one! There were 99 levy audits on building permits out of 164,000 Building Permits issued for $39 billion of building works; this is not only infinitesimal, but focused on collection of monies.
In other areas, how did the VBA compare in 2013-2014 to the Building Commission the previous year? For 2013-2014, the VBA carried out 70 fewer inspections and conducted 80 fewer investigations; with the Building Practitioners Board’s 53 inquiries and the VBA’s 28 prosecutions, the total number of building practitioners disciplined was 81, as compared to 136 under the Commission in 2012-2013.
As the number of registered building practitioners increased and the number of incompetent, unscrupulous offenders increased, the new VBA as the reformed ‘regulator’ decreased the minute number of audits, decreased the number of investigations and inspections, and the number of inquiries and prosecutions. Of 21,186 building practitioners registered, a mere 0.38 per cent were called to account last year. Put simply, 99.62 per cent of practitioners were free to act as they pleased without fear of sanction, for a near-zero probability of punishment! This performance comes as Digby states that the VBA is “working to become a better regulator.” These appear to be empty words, with the VBA’s performance seemingly in stark contradiction to its pledge to reform.
The VBA Mail of 13 May 2014 states: “The aim of the proposed reforms is to deliver improved consumer protection and oversight of building practitioners” and “the VBA will have responsibility for implementing the reforms.”
Yet with 46 more staff and a budget of $42 million to operate in 2013-2014 (80 per cent of this money paid by owners), the VBA has managed to deliver no improvement for consumers and to do less oversight of practitioners than its predecessor.
Consumers are not considered stakeholders by the VBA. They remain locked out of consultation and denied any representation, their rights and protection non-existent. It is therefore unsurprising that the mythical ‘reform’ has not become reality for consumers.
Published on 06 July 2015
CONTRIBUTED BY:
Anne Paten
Anne Paten is a well-known Building Consumer Advocate, who has worked for seven years as a public advocate for the enforcement of consumers’ rights. She has represented individual building consumers through meeting with builders, corresponding with Government agency officials and at th…
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1. Mel says:

July 6, 2015 at 10:39 am
Anne has succinctly cut through the spin to highlight very successfully what those in the system have long experienced. Her in depth knowledge should be capitalised on, yet the distinct refusal to allow genuine consumer voices speaks volumes of the current culture in the Victorian building industry. Anne and those like her (rare as they are) are often the only shining light in the very dark process that thousands of ordinary Victorians are enduring for years on end. Let’s see a considered, genuine response to the findings of the Victorian Auditor Generals report released in May, and return Victorias’ building industry to something to be proud of.
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2. Dick Gower says:

July 6, 2015 at 5:01 pm
Depressing reading that nothing has changed. Please keep up your good work Anne.
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3. Andrew says:

July 6, 2015 at 5:11 pm
It is great that Anne has been on the side of consumers. We have been fighting with this and previous governments for change to the system that protects the cowboy builders, inspectors and surveyors for too long. A change in the system is desperately required and it is required NOW. If there is no change NOW then another generation of people will be saddled with a disastrous building system. Keep up the good work.
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4. Peter quartel says:

July 6, 2015 at 8:27 pm
Anne is right. From my own experience it appears that the Building Commission was completely unable to identify, let alone remedy, illegal conduct by builders. I find it extremely hard to believe that an organisation that actually wanted to perform could be as hopeless as the Building Commission or now the VBA. Can the Labour government do any better?
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5. Dee says:

July 7, 2015 at 11:51 am
This does not surprise me at all. It seems these days that anything to do with a government of either persuasion will only do what it wants to do, and the general public are the losers overall. I fully sympathise with all those who have fallen foul of the VBA , keep up the good fight and hopefully you will win through.
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6. Beverley-jane says:
July 7, 2015 at 12:30 pm
Year after year, enquiry after damning enquiry, all the vulnerable consumer receives is yet another name change! When so called professional practitioners can devastate the finances and stability of families through incompetence and outright dishonesty, then legally avoid accountability time and again via liquidation, it is sheer negligence of consumer protection. Simply immoral! Without critical scrutiny of those seeking registration, effective control/enforcement of regulations, any registration and regulatory body is nothing more than a parasite to consumers – in fact impeding and endangering consumers hoodwinked into supposing registration criteria offers assurance of competence, financial accountability and good character. The regulator, recalcitrant builders and all too powerful ‘member associations’ who protect these incompetents with ongoing memberships and legal assistance further abuse consumers and damage the industry, dragging honourable and competent members along with them. Far too many of the ‘homes’ being ‘built’ today will not be sound for future generations let alone those consumers who have risked life savings to build. Disposable homes? Consumer beware!
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7. Graeme Doreian says:

July 7, 2015 at 2:39 pm
Great article that no bureaucrat or politician from any political party want exposed.
It is known that relevant Ministers liaise with the various Departments named, that then gives those Departments comfort knowing they can keep ‘ripping off’ the consumers.
I believe the legal paternity, who have set up this ‘minefield of deceit’, pocket from Government and the consumers, just one big’ boys club’. I bet, if they had building problems their ‘mates’ would silently fix the problem. Because of the, I believe rectification costs, and potential legal ramifications, NO
ONE in any political party will act thoroughly, as has been revealed in VAGO reports since around 2000.
Consumers are too abused, and weak, even when healthy to make a united stand, and until they do the ‘charlatans’ will rule, protected by the bureaucrats, politicians, and vested interests.
Congratulations Anne, I only wish large numbers of people would support your group, and ‘get the bastards’. Until people are hurt no one cares. MAKE A STAND NOW.
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8. Karin says:

July 7, 2015 at 11:44 pm
Great summary of the depressing state of affairs – when will the Government wake up?
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9. Mark Whitby says:

July 8, 2015 at 12:48 pm
Another informative one Anne,
It’s a pity that everyone is so misinformed on so many issues in the building industry. Virtually everyone thinks that anyone who inspects a building is a building inspector… WRONG. They are building consultants… and they do not need to be registered or insured. But if they call themselves building inspectors they are actually guilty of misleading the public.
I think that the misinformation is so widespread that the real Building Inspectors (who look at buildings under permit at each stage of construction) should be called something else… perhaps Building Permit Inspectors?
It’s not unlike the confusion regarding pergolas and verandas. Very few in the public know there is a difference… that verandas have a roof covering and pergolas do not.
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10. Roy Coon says:

July 8, 2015 at 11:21 pm
How true. It took eight years to get an occupancy certificate for a $22k extension which ended up costing over $100k due to a dodgy builder, an incompetent Building Commission and a completely useless VCAT that had absolutely no concern for any regulations or standards that were ignored by the builder as well as multiple surveyors notices. The fact is that the builder broke the rules, went through the kangaroo court system (this was his third time) and was let loose to do it again without conviction.
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11. Diarmuid Hannigan says:

July 9, 2015 at 8:01 am
Australian Consumer Law states that one must not engage in Misleading and deceptive conduct, unconscionable conduct or unfair empowerment in a contract. Surely Mathew Guy and his troops have engaged in all three of these sins in creating this new and ineffective body that they purport will protect the consumer rights of new home owners when in reality this has not occurred. One has to ask where is the Minister for consumer affairs and where is the head of Consumer Affairs Victoria Clair Noone and why are they not doing the job they are paid to do.
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12. Pam says:

July 9, 2015 at 1:32 pm
Anne Patten is one of the only public faces of building reform and consumer rights in the building industry in Victoria. According to the latest VAGO report nothing has changed from those reports cited above. It is most interesting to note in the 2014 HIA annual report amidst the huge economic and well-being losses by building consumers in this state “they rallied against proposed changes to domestic building insurance and the Building Act- and acknowledge their success in having the VBA momentum
stalled. They also recognise the ongoing challenge for the new government, and they also point out they will once again very busy with cross-benchers to influence the Victorian Upper House of Parliament. With very rich lobby groups such as the HIA and similar industry bodies, what hope have consumer and Australian citizens in Victoria have?
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13. Mar says:

July 9, 2015 at 9:20 pm
This is one of the greatest scandals in Victoria and hard to believe that in spite of all the promises nothing changes. Perhaps the government want the political donations that come from the developer world. Have the mafia taken charge of the development world? Whatever it is, it is outrageous that both sides of government sit back, make promises and do nothing .
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14. Dave says:

July 10, 2015 at 12:51 pm
Wells aid, and aint that the truth. Govt regulation – helping to make life difficult for you yet again.
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15. Cheyanne Dumbleton says:

July 10, 2015 at 9:54 pm
Its hard to believe that the VBA are keeping up their end of the bargain in relation to the Australian Consumer Law stating that one must not engage in Misleading and deceptive conduct, unconscionable conduct or unfair empowerment in a contract. Seems its polar opposite when they are removing the ability for consumers to search for suspended builders instead of noting that they are currently suspended due to being found guilty of non-compliance. There is no record anymore kept to state that
they had/were/are suspended. Practically removing any ability at all for consumers to be informed and at best given half a chance to protect themselves against such shady builders. The Building Industry is one of the biggest sectors granted…. but only because there is a demand for business. Now we the consumers, DEMAND to be protected against this corrupted system
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16. Val says:

July 11, 2015 at 1:50 pm
This is disgusting and must be changed.
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17. Lesley Crouch says:

July 11, 2015 at 2:38 pm
The building industry is important for the economy and it is difficult for an ordinary consumer to understand why governments haven’t acted to ensure that the industry is efficiently run and that builders do their job with integrity. We all suffer when building codes are not enforced and when disreputable practices are allowed to continue. Thankyou to Anne and all the people who are fighting to improve this situation so that consumers can have confidence in the builders who build their homes, apartment blocks, public buildings for us and future generations.
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18. katrina says:

July 12, 2015 at 10:12 am
Theses builders are lining they own pockets and not helping fixed they mistakes that they have made on building people houses
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19. Dick Gower says:
July 13, 2015 at 11:25 am
Anne is to be commended for her work in bring such a serious issue to wider attention. Anybody involved is a serious building dispute will know first hand of the serious flaws in the consumer protection or redress.
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20. Andrew Heaton says:

July 17, 2015 at 9:21 am
At the time of introducing the reforms, Matthew Guy stated specifically that consumer protection was not adequate and that the building regulation system was not working.
To then introduce a regime involving fewer inspections seems incomprehensible.
Likewise, I too find the virtual wiping of old information on the VBA web site to be extremely frustrating and poor.
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21. Mary Drost says:

July 18, 2015 at 1:02 am
Wonderful that there are people who bravely attempts to expose the scandal inside the building industry and what it is doing to innocent residents who put all their money into building the home of their only to find so many defects that it is impossible to live in and often they are financially ruined as they pay to have the problems corrected. Why is this allowed and why is not the inspection process not being done properly and why are shonky builders being given the licenses to allow them to build. Something very wrong going on in the Building Commission and it is high time the government took it seriously and really corrected it. Why do they turn a blind eye, is it because they just want to keep building as they have allowed manufacturing to go overseas and all we now make is houses.
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22. Connie says:

July 19, 2015 at 7:25 am
I have heard about how bad the system is from one of my relatives and cannot believe the government allows this to happen. I cannot understand how all these people get paid to do nothing. When is the government going to wake up?
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23. Rob says:

July 19, 2015 at 12:26 pm
Wow if only Mathew Guy did what he said he was going to do. Instead people continue to lose faith in tradies, surveyors, the VBA and ministers. It’s a situation that needs to be corrected as in the long run it’s not good for anyone, least of all the economy. For starters the information needs to be more freely available.
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Mythical Reform and the Reality of No Reform

Mythical Reform and the Reality of No Reform

Anne Paten published on Sourceable 9 July 2015 47 shared 10 Comments
LINK: https://sourceable.net/mythical-reform-and-the-reality-of-no-reform-part-3/

Mythical reform

From a consumer perspective, Parliament’s confusion and lack of enthusiasm to pass the Building Legislation Amendment Bill 2014 was the only good news last year. Emanating from the Consumer Protection Reform Strategy, its purpose was to conceal the reality: there was no reform for consumers.
A review of the proposed legislation reveals no improvement in consumer protection. Worse, it would actually make more consumers more defenceless and more susceptible to damage than is currently the case.
In short, the new ‘strategy’ falls under the same meaningless ‘registration regime.’
Enforcement of compliance
The VBA’s statistics demonstrate that, like the Building Commission, the ‘no touch regulator’ continues with no enforcement. For example, in 2013/14, out of 13,261 registered domestic builders (limited and unlimited), not one was audited for compliance with building and safety standards. The surveyor audits conducted focused on permit levies and not on auditing surveyors’ work.
The VAGO’s findings of 2015 verify that the VBA does not identify ‘risks,’ does not enforce compliance and makes no attempt to prevent harm to consumers. Likewise, the VAGO found that CAV is loath to use its enforcement powers, with a mere four prosecutions in 2012/13, usually of ‘unregistered’ persons. Further protection for the rogues is provided by CAV and VCAT, both supporting the ’strategy’ of not referring any offenders to the BPB for discipline.
Reform
The reform is the VBA in charge of compliance, as was the Commission and the old ‘no enforcement’ mindset is the new ‘strategy.’
In short, the new ‘strategy’ brings about no change and even less enforcement.
Complaints and Dispute Resolution
CAV conducts few conciliations, declaring most disputes ‘resolved’ without providing any assistance to consumers. The VAGO concluded that it was unclear if CAV’s activities were at all helpful in reducing consumer detriment. However, many thousands of consumers have verified that CAV’s ‘helpers’ do not help consumers. CAV officials know the builders and their lawyers well, acting unequivocally as collaborators. These officials have a record of openly demonstrating prejudice, fully aware that by acting to protect the builders, they will cause additional damage the owners and their families, not to mention the blatant injustice.
Reform
The reform here is to move dispute handling from the CAV to the VBA. If a consumer makes a complaint, the mythical strategic boast is that Rectification Orders (RO) will help consumers. If, for example, an owner knows that the slab and frame are defective and complains to the VBA, it may appoint an ‘inspector’ to examine the work. If past practice of the Commission and VBA is a good predictor of future performance, the ‘inspectors’ will omit and or/minimize defects and support the offending builder. If the VBA issues a RO, and it need not, the VBA can compel the owner to pay more money to a builder. Meanwhile, the builder can get a VBA review and if this is unfavourable, he can then go to VCAT for another review.
From past experience, we know that most will do this to avoid VCAT orders against them for failing to comply with the RO. As construction lawyer Peter Micevski notes, the “prospects of appeal are likely to be high” and leading to “an over-crowded VCAT and high demand for construction lawyers to assist in the litigation of building disputes.”
What are the consequences for consumers? First, the RO can be within a ’reasonable time’ – which can be taken to mean months or even years! If the builder fails to rectify, the VBA may issue another RO, extending the time. Then there are two reviews open to the builder (VBA and VCAT). If a breach of the RO notice is issued, the owner may end the contract, but then has to apply to VCAT for an order against the builder. By now, how many years have passed? When the case comes up at VCAT, it can make any order it considers ‘fair,’ including ordering the owner to pay more money to the builder. This ‘strategy’ will allow owners to be legally robbed of more money, whilst years slip away (VCAT cases lasting up to nine years), owners paying the mortgage for a house they cannot live in and rent to live elsewhere, and more VCAT costs. All this because they wanted to exercise their ‘consumer rights’ to get the house they paid for.
This leaves VBA and VCAT in charge, both with appalling records of causing injurious harm to owners. The big winners again are litigation, lawyers and their cowboy clients. Consumers are hammered harder and more heartlessly.
The refusal to improve the scheme, underpinned by conflict of interest, collusion and secrecy is shameful. But to spin a ‘strategy’ to increase consumer harm disguised as genuine reform is truly wicked.
Published on 09 July 2015
CONTRIBUTED BY:
Anne Paten
Anne Paten is a well-known Building Consumer Advocate, who has worked for seven years as a public advocate for the enforcement of consumers’ rights.
*Please refer to our comment policy before submitting Post Comment
1. Beverley-jane says:

July 9, 2015 at 10:59 am
Consumers are nothing more than fodder for this industry Anne and year after year, audit after audit, nobody is listening or cares. The basic survival instincts to provide safety and shelter for one’s family drives us to risk our financial security in believing
our builder’s registration equates to honesty and competence, after all, our red tape clogged society surely they would be monitored by an effective regulator, legislation etc ? Our misplaced trust ensures we will continue to be herded by these wolves in lambs clothing like lambs to the slaughter.
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2. Mark Whitby says:

July 9, 2015 at 9:50 pm
Couldn’t agree more Anne.
Anything over 1 year is an unbelievable time to resolve a dispute. What a defective system we’ve got.
It seems that the aim of the authorities is to simply make disputes go away, no matter if it’s via delays that make people give up, or bullying in VCAT or immune authority appointed so-called experts with no definition of defect commenting on alleged defects. It’s a joke
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3. Branko Mladichek says:

July 10, 2015 at 8:36 am
As Building Expert practising in Melbourne with thousands of pre purchase and building stage inspections behind me I have had a front row seat to building problems and disputes. It all comes down to greed. Builders are really well paid for what they do(or at least they are paid their price) but it seems for some its not enough. Much more money can be made by under delivering on the promise particularly as builders know they can get away with it with impunity. So we have new houses built built with defects in sub standard workmanship because there is no quality control (quality control costs money to implement and maintain you see) Apart from skimping on quality and compliance there is also cost stripping once dwellings are sold off the plan. As I write this I have houses under construction now where builders are simply not complying with engineering recommendations for site drainage, thereby risking foundation damage , all with impunity. So it seems “Greed is Good” where there is impunity.
A lot can be said and we can beat about the bush till cows come home but the stark reality is that building control system without enforced penalties is no defence against greed.
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o Mark Whitby says:

July 15, 2015 at 7:53 pm
Good point Branko,
About the builders not complying with recommendations… it’s the recommending and not requiring that is the heart of this problem, because owners are locked into a maximum amount that they can afford contract… and complying with the recommendations would cost lot’s more. It’s a sort of cronyism I say… with the owners kept in the dark all the time
4. Andrew says:

July 10, 2015 at 12:00 pm
How can these government department justify their existence with absolutely no protection for consumers. After having dealings with VCAT and other government departments responsible for the building industry with my own house, I can’t understand why there is no help and why the unjust system is not changed. The only people that benefits for this system are the lawyers, building consultants and of course the builders. Keep up the good work.
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5. Mel says:

July 11, 2015 at 11:38 am
Slowly but surely the curtains are being drawn back on this issue thanks to Anne and others. The many (and there are thousands upon thousands) of people harmed by the’system’ must stand together to force the issue out into the open. Real reform will only happen when genuine consumer voices are heard.
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6. Val says:

July 11, 2015 at 1:32 pm
This is not surprising to me. I have known of so many people seriously harmed, including close family members. The system has been organized for owners to lose their money and they have no means of recourse.
As for reform, it appears that this has again been orchestrated for owners to lose, but more of them and even worse. This is disgraceful, especially seeing that it has been arranged by government and the officials who are supposed to protect owners. It is time for this to be stopped. People must unite as clearly the government will never take action and it has allowed owners to be so damaged. Good on you Anne for persevering for so long. I look forward to your hard work bearing fruit.
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7. Dick Gower says:

July 13, 2015 at 11:19 am
It is difficult to understand the apathy of both sides of politics on an issue so obviously and seriously in need of reform.
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8. Connie says:

July 19, 2015 at 7:52 am
The spotlight on the government again. It seems the reforms are not reforms for consumers at all. Even more saddening these if passed would make owners worse off than they are at present.
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9. Rob says:

July 19, 2015 at 2:18 pm
This system obviously suits the building enterprise in the short term, but in the long team they are running it into the ground. The more consumers that experience this, the more consumers will avoid building or renovating. They are doing a good job of keeping this secret for now, but that can’t last. Once bitten twice shy.
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‘Hot Potato’ Policy Still Top Secret!

‘Hot Potato’ Policy Still Top Secret!

9 By Anne Paten Thursday, June 2nd, 2016  88 shares

top secret

Imagine that the most burning issue facing Australia today is not on the agenda for the upcoming federal election – again!

Imagine that the most burning issue facing Australia today is not on the agenda for the upcoming federal election – again! The issue is our flawed Building Policy. In political speak, it’s termed a ‘hot potato’! Enjoying bi-partisan support for three decades, it has facilitated a framework for the building industry to construct an ever-increasing poorly built environment. However, this policy has been obscured from public view, with its consequences imperceptible to most consumers and the populace. In 2016, it continues ever more piping hot – and still classified as ‘top secret’!

By contrast, those who work in the industry or offshoot ‘dispute industry’, are acutely aware of this reprehensible policy and its resultant devastation, with Peter Mulherin designating the malaise an “industrial disease”. An apt description given its endemic nature. Appalling building industry practices, combined with decades of uniformly atrocious governance have been thoroughly documented. As well, the destruction visited upon consumers has been quantitatively measured and authenticated in hundreds of reports.

Nevertheless, this remains a fiercely fiery issue, so potentially damaging politically that it has been forcibly and furtively filed away – forbidden from surfacing in public policy debate for two centuries!

An Inconvenient Truth

The most recent example of political contrivance may be the Senate Inquiry into ‘Non-conforming Building Products’. Ostensibly set up to examine the extensive use and ramifications of non-conforming building products, and to make recommendations on solutions, the Inquiry has now legitimately ‘lapsed’. Initially to report in October 2015, this was deferred, and when the Parliamentary double dissolution arrived early in May 2016, conveniently unseating the Senate Committee, no final report was written. One would have to question the timing of the election – most fortuitous for the major parties as the investigation into the building industry’s latest non-conformance calamity was discontinued.

Although an Interim Report was released in early May, if no new Senate Committee Inquiry is inaugurated, the damning evidence accumulated will remain ‘lawfully’ lost!

Instead of dealing with the revelations exposed by the Inquiry, which would serve to exacerbate the already flaming hot policy, political expediency intervened with all disclosures validly vaporized! Was the Senate Committee surreptitiously stymied to conceal the inconvenient truth?

The ‘hot potato’ parade

 

We could fill a book demonstrating the devastating effects of the ‘hot potato’ policy bucketing on our building parade. Suffice here to highlight just a few of the menacing manifestations flagging Australia’s failed built environment.

 

Since 2013, 40,000 buildings across Australia have been identified as containing cheap, non-compliant electrical cabling. Today those in powerful positions remain impassively indifferent as residents in 22, 000 of those buildings remain under threat of electrocution or fire!

 

Over the last 10 to 15 years, non-compliant cladding has been widely used on the exterior of buildings in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Perth. In the cladding audit conducted by the Victorian Building Authority (VBA Report May 2016), over 50% of buildings were found to have non-compliant cladding – or no permit issued regarding external walls! The NSW Department of Planning and Environment is concerned that up to 2,500 buildings in the Greater Sydney region contain the highly flammable cladding “notorious for causing towering infernos”. In other states, the exposure to harm from this cladding has not been ascertained – such complacency a sign of the Governments’ absolute defiance of their legal and moral obligations.

 

In 2015, the MFB expressed its serious concerns that 20,000 buildings in Melbourne may be non-compliant. In New South Wales, 85% of new apartments are defective (University of NSW Study, 2012), and whilst strata associations in Victoria do not have definitive data, their assessment is that it would be similar to NSW – 85%!

 

Back in 2014, Victoria declared 4,300 cases of ‘slab heave’. However, the VBA refused to release its Report, concealing the real extent of this problem. At the time, industry sources estimated the most plausible number to be 10,000 (cutting corners and cost-saving), but having continued unabated, now the number is probably much higher.

 

Recent findings in NSW indicate a higher proportion of defects in buildings constructed in the decade from 2002 to 2012. This is the same in Victoria where statistics confirm building defects have caused an exponential increase in consumer detriment over the same period – dating from the introduction of Last Resort Insurance, indicative of an Australia-wide pattern.

In sunburnt NSW, there are now more house fires than bush fires! The number of house fires and fatalities ever-increasing, with 4,070 house fires across NSW in 2015, causing 17 deaths!

As if these issues of unashamed non-conformance are not enough, across the country we have a long list of non-compliant products in use – steel, glass, wood, and asbestos, etc., etc. Governments’ collective response has been to employ duplicitous ploys to avoid any slivers of honesty, accountability or transparency. Consider the use of asbestos. Banned in Australia in 2003, today it is still arriving in the country, and since 2008 there have been only two (2) prosecutions! No enforcement means the industry considers it a joke, albeit a very sick joke.

 

Non-compliance

An analysis of statistics from the ACCC and Product Safety Media Releases is shocking. To take one example: from 2010-2015, there were over 913, 000 houses affected by faulty electrical products – this calculation based on only 8 products! The very latest in the long line of unsafe products is the Thermomix – following washing machines, electric blankets, toys, etc. There is varying efficacy in relation to recalls; about 60% for Samsung washing machines (42 fires), down to 10% for electric blankets. The ACCC recently stated that builders and electricians are ignoring recalls. No wonder, given that ‘regulators’ refuse to regulate!

The number of suppliers distributing non-compliant electrical appliances simply beggars belief, with many of the offenders Australia’s biggest companies. But without enforcement, or any penalty, or punishment as deterrence, none of the offenders will change their conduct.

Therefore, even in election mode, it is impossible for Australians to hazard a guess at the totality of hazardous building products or the high probability of harm facing them and their families. Ratified to stay under the radar, Government policy has promoted censorship ‘in the public interest’ – basically buttressing the vested interests!

 

Election Extravaganza

 

This election has seen the politicians out early on the hustings and as the extravaganza rocks on, the stakes are high – those holding privileged positions of power afforded many opportunities and unrivalled rewards!

If we examine the broad brushstrokes, there is little difference between the major parties. Predictably, both are focusing on the economy, acknowledging the building industry is the key economic driver. Building is quintessentially about business and money-making!

Unfortunately, any dialogue on the real building policy is taboo. Thus for this election, the debate has been diverted to ‘housing affordability’. This classic strategy designed as a distraction from the most critical issue and to terminate troubling matters – just like the lapsed Senate Inquiry in May 2016!

So with bipartite support, the public’s attention has been deflected away from building quality and safety, and the tragic consequences for consumers, and instead directed deliberation to house prices, thereby again negating any scrutiny of the shameful ‘hot spud’ policy from this election’s agenda.

Discussions

9

Comment

  1. Mark Whitby

June 3, 2016

Great summary of our virtually out-of-control building industry Anne.

The question is how do the carers in the industry get through to governments… that there is a ginormous looming (poor quality workmanship) economic blight on the residential building industry.

And I wonder how many more new home owners and the new apartment owners with decrepit homes and illegally clad towers will it take to get the message through to all governments.

A small group of home owners hurt by the previous dispute system got the message through to the VIC government in the mid-1980’s railing against the system where an arbitrator was appointed.

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  1. Les Williams

June 3, 2016

Consider the incestuous relationship between building regulators and peak industry groups. Consider also the methods used by the same groups to influence… legislation all over Australia and is happening now. We had a senator in the old house that represented family values that had interests in building companies accused of selling rubbish houses to families and was an ex president of the HIA. Until the questionable influence of peak industry groups over state based legislation and industry regulators is exposed and they are held accountable this will continue unabated. The spectre of “legislation by donation” was highlighted by the 4 Corners TV program only one week ago. The issues you outline coupled with non-payment issues in the industry can only be CATEGORISED as very SERIOUS FRAUD.

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  1. Brett Bates

June 3, 2016

Excellent article Anne. Very detailed and well constructed (unlike much of our built environment!) expose of how our government failed miserably. We… were well on the way to establishing a national occupational licensing scheme for builders after COAG initiatives recognised the absurd porosity of allowing states and territories to have vastly divergent licensing requirements. It would have put in place a far more stringent system of incrementally graded and categorised licences based on higher qualifications to dramatically reduce the number of shonky operators that can enter the system. States and territories shied away from it due to pressure from some disgraceful self interest of supposed industry associations and naturally the federal government of that time (Gillard) had its own self interest focused on other areas such as clinging to power. If its true that we get the governments we deserve then we must be atoning for some very serious sins of the past!

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  1. Joel Nash

June 6, 2016

Notwithstanding the well documented problems, I must say that the idea of this being ‘the most burning issue facing Australia today’ is just a little… bit overblown.

When coming to the election, most people really want to know about the big picture issues, such as the economy, health, education, refugees, law enforcement and so forth. Whilst built asset quality is important – and yes, there are serious problems which must be dealt with – it’s certainly far from the only issue facing Australia today and indeed, there are many other issues which are also important. Think of healthcare, for example. Whilst the standards of healthcare throughout Australia are generally recognises as high from an international perspective, we still hear about very serious issues of malpractice which has massive impacts upon victims in that field – so building is not the only field in which problems occur.

Also, we should recognise that built asset quality throughout Australia remains generally high by world standards. If you think built asset quality in Australia is bad, just look at in places like India, Egypt, Brazil and the like, where building collapses are common and construction of additional floors beyond what is allowed for within the approval documentation happens all the time. Compared to this, Australians should be thankful about the quality of the built environment that we do have.

Also, even other developed countries have problems – witness the leaky homes debacle over several decades in New Zealand. Australia has problems and we mus deal with these, but let’s just keep things in perspective.

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  1. Lucy

June 6, 2016

What a shame that this issue continues to be swept under the rug. Well done to Anne on highlighting very succinctly the taboo topic of our terrible… building system. It’s only a matter of time until it will be impossible to continue hiding the facts from the general public, but unfortunately it seems many thousands will have to be hurt financially, emotionally and physically before this happens.

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  1. Russell Jones

June 6, 2016

Hi. I think the quality problem started way back when AV. Jennings (hope memory right on that name) went from building house frames with stud centre’s… from 18 inch. stud centres to 24 inch.stud centres and Jennings were the biggest volume house builders.A Royal commission to support the master builders association, Old Man Grollo never had these problems he was a working man the lot now running the show have a bit of paper on the wall.The rot is so set in to protect the business \ companys that those who pay have there rights taken away by the self interests of those in control. R. Jones.

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  1. Diarmuid Hannigan

June 7, 2016

A long time ago Australian homes were built to Australian Standards using products that were made in Australian by Australian manufacturers that complied… with Australian Standards. The Geni who inhabit the land in the clouds decided that the principals of free trade and economic rationalism would be a healthy pill for Australia.
Australian bureaucracy has always been known for its laziness but as there was a buck in it they had an effective system for ensuring imported products that entered Australia sort of complied with Australian Standards.
When the tariffs were removed Customs and Excise changed its name to Border Force and has lost sight of one of its major roles which is to ensure that imported building products that are used in our homes must comply with Australian Standards. This role protected Australian Industry and Australian Consumers.
The Gods of Canberra forgot that its government departments have always been a lazy lot who avoid doing hard work and now because the people who Australian Consumers rely upon to protect their consumer rights are not doing their jobs we will inherit a disasterous legacy of faulty homes for years and years to come.
Joel you must understand that your house is your home your home is where your family lives, it is also an Australian family`s main asset and Australian families who work hard to purchase their homes must be assured that they are safe to live in and are not built with sub standard products. Those families also need jobs and the industries that provide those jobs should be assured that they are competing on a level playing field which at present because of the laziness within the public service they are suffering..

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  1. Anne Paten

June 9, 2016

Joel you seem to have missed the point in relation to this issue. Building policy has never been on the political agenda for any election – BECAUSE… it is too hot for the electorate. In other words the people, all of whom are Australian consumers and fund the multi trillion dollar industry, are not allowed the to know the truth, much less have any debate. This building industry causes the greatest financial detriment to consumers by far – much more than any other consumer market sector. Likely to be upwards of $30 Billion in Australia this year. That is too hot!
Remember shelter is our most basic need and for most people it is their largest investment – but for around 50 per cent, their building disaster will not only cause enormous financial loss, it will ruin their lives forever. This is a burning issue – for the pollies and the people. The pollies just have to keep the truth hidden from the public and this is the role of the public officials that we the people pay!
By the way, we are not supposed to be a third world country, and the building collapses in much of the third world are the result of natural disasters – but in Oz ours are all man-made! And you think that this is not something Australians would like to know and discuss? I am sure it is a horrible hottie!

PS Many of our collapses do not make it into the media, especially in domestic building! Just one of the strategies to mask the reality from the ordinary folk!

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  1. Beverley-Jane

June 13, 2016

As long as we have politicians who prostitute themselves for votes instead of truly representing their communities, this issue will be allowed to fester… and further contaminate the construction industry.
Building between the 2002 – 2012 period Anne mentioned, we became victims of a dishonest and incompetent builder. Checking registration is a farce since far too many incompetent and dishonest conmen are repeatedly registered.
Adding to the stress was over seven years of fighting for some form of justice via the toothless, disinterested regulators and so called consumer protection bodies who allow these conmen to proliferate. Justice we never received and time we will never get back.
In response to Joel Nash’s minimisation of this seriously detrimental issue, this industry and it’s conduct directly affects many of the issues he considers more relevant; i.e. the economy, health, law enforcement etc. Building a home for your family, where you are making the biggest financial investment of your life, only to have that hope of security shattered by dishonesty and incompetence of so may in this industry, directly affects the economy, mental, physical and financial health and all too often law enforcement.
Having lived in third world Africa and building three substantial homes there, I can assure you the construction sector, and their delivery in this country is substantially inferior which reinforces the worthlessness of the so called regulatory bodies who, along with politicians/ government, refuse to live up to their responsibilities.
Time to stop the political and industry back scratching and earn their salaries legitimately by dealing with these serious issues by dumping them in the ‘too hard basket’!

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Consumers’ Plight: ‘Buyer Beware’ Information Buried

Consumers’ Plight: ‘Buyer Beware’ Information Buried

Sourceable July 20 2016 ANNE PATEN   66 Shares                   10 Comments

byer beware

When Australians sign a building contract, they know they will be making the biggest investment of their lives, but the truth of the inherent dangers of building and the extremely high probability of serious harm is kept from them.

Put simply, the fundamental facts are buried, and are not ‘discoverable.’ Regardless of their efforts, this consumer class has been consigned to be unaware, starved of all basic ‘buyer beware’ knowledge. Shamefully, no possibility of protection is our consumers’ plight.

 

 

‘Buyer Beware’ charade

For consumers, being educated is the key tool in their ‘protection box.’ All have a ‘right’ to be able to obtain accurate information, investigate realistic choices and to make a judicious decision. But no matter their commitment, for building consumers realizing their ‘right’ is an impossibility.

As ‘caveat emptor’ consumers would envisage, past conduct could be an indicator of future behaviour; hence the importance of sourcing building practitioners’ past history. How frustrating, then, to find such endeavours are futile. For decades, government agencies have collected voluminous information, but almost none of this is available to the public. All consumer complaints information, ‘dispute’ data and detriment statistics are hidden, securely locked away in the Consumer Affairs Victoria’s treasure trove. As for the information held by the Building Commission over its 20 long years, in 2014 this was entirely erased by the ‘new’ VBA. The limited publicly accessible information is fragmented, difficult to find and hopelessly inadequate. The ‘buyer beware’ option is bogus, a contemptible charade.

Consumer protection con

Government spin has been remarkably successful, duping prospective consumers into thinking ‘consumer protection’ exists. But the reality revealed from numerous independent reports and well-documented consumer experiences is the juxtaposition of ‘systemic failure.’ For 23 years, the ‘consumer protection strategy’ has been a ruse, the malfunctioning system calculated perfectly to malfunction (Victorian Auditor-General’s Report, May 2015).

In stark contradiction to its stated purpose and imperceptible to consumers, the ‘protection strategy’ was shaped to ‘protect’ all in the building industry, whilst consumers were designated to be defenceless and without any safeguards inexorably exposed to exploitation. From 2005, we can chart the destiny of hundreds of thousands of owners every year; fated to incur massive financial loss, years of living in limbo, shattered families and if not dead, left lingering under unending traumatic stress.

To describe the cornerstone of ‘consumer policy’ as punishing would be an understatement. Rendered ignorant, consumers are incapable of making informed, wise decisions, their disadvantage further compounded under the Government’s dispute-driven modus operandi. Unknowingly, 40 per cent of owners are compelled into ‘disputes’, powerless to combat the pitfalls of an unfair, unjust legal system and unable to avoid the additional monetary loss. Helpless, their predetermined destiny is patently undetectable.

The truth deficit

Most government reports and records have been withheld from the public. The information obtainable is negligible, tightly controlled, defectively deficient and quintessentially a truth deficit.

Even if a motivated consumer were to locate the Practitioner Disciplinary Register (PDR) on the VBA website, it would be pointless. Few names of building practitioners appear on disciplinary records, since the bulk of real offenders either ‘never appear’ or magically ‘disappear’ – move over David Copperfield!

Consider that there are thousands of consumer complaints every year (the VBA admits to only 978 in 2014-2015), but few are acknowledged, fewer investigated and almost none proceed to an Inquiry. Commonly, owners’ complaints ‘disappear’ and the files are customarily lost or closed. Many owners never receive any response. Only the most persistent, after lodging multiple complaints and hundreds of pages of evidence, will be informed that their complaints are ‘in the bin.’

An examination of the PDR reveals few builders’ or surveyors’ names (no company names) because to get listed, there has to be an Inquiry. Of 21,799 building practitioners registered in 2014-2015, only 94 were summoned to a disciplinary Inquiry or 0.4 per cent. These generally result in a reprimand and sometimes a small fine – though now in the latest VBA Annual Report, the actual outcomes are no longer reported.

Last year, there were 35 registered builders prosecuted – a 0.1 per cent probability of prosecution. In relation to plumbers, of 26,361 registered last year, only 18 were called to an Inquiry and 19 prosecuted – a minute 0.07 per cent chance of a plumber going to Inquiry or prosecution (VBA Annual Report 2014-2015). There is almost no prospect of punishment or deterrence!

Many of those called to an Inquiry will appeal their penalty and thus they never make it onto the PDR list. Finally, even when it comes to those once appearing on the PDR, names can be arranged to be deleted.

In this context, consider that in 2011, 256,000 Victorian consumers suffered financial detriment totalling billions of dollars. One would expect to find thousands of registered builders disciplined in 2011, their names on the PDR and some serious penalties metered out, but no! A review of the 2011 PDR reveals a mere 83 builders and surveyors listed. Of building surveyors (the most criticized group), only 12 appear. As for penalties, reprimands predominate and notably few suspensions or cancellations (not permanent), and most continue operating anyway. These statistics provide pathetic proof of who has ‘protection’ – and it’s not consumers.

Should an owner attempt to find information on cases at the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT), it would be another wasted exercise. Thousands of cases go to the VCAT Building List annually, but only a minuscule number make their way to the ‘official’ VCAT list. First, only those cases which go to a full hearing end up on the list – around 30 a year.

Second, all other cases, many dragging on for up to nine years and costing owners a mega fortune, are not listed; generally ‘finalized’ in favour of the building offenders, then ‘disappeared.’ Hence, of many thousands of VCAT cases over the last 18 years, whether volume builders or sole traders, all remain unknown. Most tellingly, VCAT does not refer any offenders for disciplinary action, even the many repeat lawbreakers. Consequently, no matter their aberrant or serial misconduct, all reprobates are protected and their past history covered up.

Deprived of power to control their lives, consumers have been robbed of any opportunity to prevent harm. CAV’s role is purportedly to protect consumers, and as a member of Consumers International, it committed to enforcing the eight basic Consumer Rights – including the right to be informed, to consumer education, to choose, to satisfy basic needs, and so on. Deplorably, and as has been very well documented, CAV elected to work vigorously against building consumers’ interests and artfully voided all their ‘rights.’

Now try to think of being a clueless consumer in a clandestine bureaucratic world. Have a crack at comprehending this imposed gullibility as one part of the whole duplicitous official strategy. Then imagine this combined with the building/consumer protection agencies’ infamous track record. We have the risible regulatory framework, zero enforcement of compliance, the unfair contracts (contracts over $300,000 exempt under Australian Consumer Law), enforced disputes and the notorious junk DDI insurance.

Our consumers’ plight is no accident. It is a direct consequence of a spurious scheme, and minus any ‘buyer beware’, it clearly coiled into to a consumer catastrophe.

  1. John Bolton

July 19, 2016

Certainly, the lack of availability of former Building Commission reports on the VBA’s web site is extremely poor. Anyone trying to find any of those… reports gets no help whatsoever from the VBA web site (I myself have tried to find them – as is stated above, they are not there). Given how bad these reports were, one would have to be pretty naive to believe they weren’t buried on purpose.More broadly the level of accountability in the system is generally poor.

My question to you, Anne, is what to do about it. What form of governance structures would you put in place in order to rectify this? How specifically should things be reformed and changed?

  1. Peter Pike

July 20, 2016

We all agree with you Anne & the propensity for government change is nil. We have seen both parties over the last 2 decades talk it up and employ… public servant who’s main attribute is spin! It is a disgrace and an indictment on our society this can go on. The massive toll & cost on all of us is currently not being correctly portrayed. Add the insurers into the mix and we have a perfect storm!!!

  1. Graham Morrow

July 21, 2016

Hi Ann

There are many issues with the homebuilding industry in Victoria and similar issues are shared with most other states.

People… who are about to enter into usually the biggest contract of their life frequently omit to seek early legal advice in regard to the rights and obligations of owners and builders under that contract and are instead seduced by sales talk and the ‘executive’ finishes of showhomes.

It will be interesting to see what impact the Treasury Legislation Amendment (Small Business and Unfair Contract Terms) Act 2015 (Cth) will have on these matters; it should assist some mum & dad building contract participants, although they will still likely have no option other than to seek recovery in the court (or Tribunal, or arbitration) dispute resolution process.

  1. Pam Mulready

July 21, 2016

Yes all so true and well stated Anne. The concept of the “public good” has beeen completely ignored to the detriment of citizens. For a fair and just… society, a public register of all building works lnking all contractors engaged in works with outcomes should be available to all. This should be just a basic requirement for “quality control”. Now thats anoher concept seemingly foreign to the industr at the moment. Presently If a builder uses dodgy electricians or plumbers to cut costs they are never linked to the builder concerned and consumers have to take on every apple in their barrel. I did a lot of research on my builder before I signed a contract and could not find anything agaist them in the prior 25 years. It wasnt until after the true situation unfolded that those connected to the industry began revealing how well known they were for bad practices. You are completely right that the regulators know who the repeat offenders are and play out charades with us all. We have a right to know for our health and wellbeing alone. This abhorrent system has existed for two long and it may require those with a conscience from all political parties to standup and be counted for the common good and the future of the housing stock in the state

  1. beverley-jane

July 22, 2016

The whole system is designed to exhaust consumers and the few who have the fortitude or financial ability to keep pushing for justice and common decency… are further penalised financially and emotionally by insane decisions made by so called regulators and court systems.
Immoral insurers repeatedly offer insurance cover to repeat offenders knowing the risk of successful claims are minimal, thanks to a system designed to intimidate and destroy desperate families who have to ‘give up’.
Why is this blatant destruction of consumer protection allowed to proliferate? Because consumers/families are nothing more than expendable financial fodder for the building sector infested with disreputable individuals and the tax grab this generates for government.
Short sighted disinterest/ negligence shown by successive governments will eventually come to bite when these families lose their financial security, mental health and are forced depend on the government coffers for support.
Those we elect to represent us, betray us, couldn’t care less, after all their transient political careers seem to be more focused on their fat political pensions, perks and cushy retirement!

  1. Mark Whitby

July 22, 2016

You’ve stated the problem in a nutshell Anne… well done.

Perhaps there is a reason why the VBA says only 978 complaints were received in 2015… and the 2011 VAGO report stated there were 256 000 complaints… and in 2015 this could reasonably be assumed not to have dwindled with more and more houses being built each year. So the other 255 022 non VBA complaints (99 62%) must not have filtered through to VBA or were handled elsewhere… BACV and Consumer Affair it seems.

Now these organizations have a semi-hidden agenda… “to expedite as economically as possible all building disputes and potential building disputes”. Now expedite means ‘make happen sooner’… than… VCAT hearing perhaps? Therefore most are scared off on the phone (81% in 2002 and today more like 90% I believe). That leaves those home owner individuals who will not be put off lightly, because they know that they have had a grossly inferior (to what was contracted) product delivered to them by their builders… and demand that their alleged defects are rectified.

Then comes the crunch.

Virtually nobody has cared enough to even define defect thoroughly… and so each side fails to convince whoever is in charge of the meetings / mediations / conciliations / Compulsory Conferences and so no awards are made because the Building Act legislation is so strict as to costs being awarded to the winner, demanding that the amount being awarded needs to be substantial.

And yes, the public are not informed of this at any stage before, during or after their homes have been botched by builders who do not supervise adequately. That is why organizations are able to loosely use the word complaint to their (and their government’s) advantage. And so failures are the go

  1. disheartenned

July 22, 2016

Currently we are living the nightmare of being stuck in nowhere land and the injustice of having done nothing wrong except to believe that our research… bringing up nothing on our builder was a good thing. Wrong!! This builder has been allowed to continue to destroy people’s lives because the current system allows him to continue when he should be de-registered! He is not only a dodgy builder but a criminal as well, getting away with falsifying documentation and lying but yet it is the consumer suffering for it! Where is our ‘do not use’ list that should be made available to all?? We should be putting them up for all to see and find then easily and then perhaps not so many unsuspecting families will have their lives ruined. Justice? None that we can find

  1. Steve

July 22, 2016

And it gets even more stacked against the consumer…..

When you give a statement to an investigator, he’ll tell you it’s in confidence. It’s not…. He’s working for the VBA who passes it over, personal information and all, to the BPB. The BPB give it out to the practitioner on every occassion in the brief of evidence. This is the ruse they use to try to get around the legislation.

So now the practitioner knows where you live, your phone numbers, email addresses, opinions, etc. even though you may never even have had any interaction with them.

Why? The only reason I can conclude is so the practitioner can find you and ‘sort you out’!

  1. Jenna Corbett

July 25, 2016

Fantastic Anne! What hope do building consumers have when all the so-called regulatory bodies blatantly collude with industry and not only hide pertinent… information regarding bad practitioners, but after defective and hence, serious economic and, hence, life- allround, damage to the consumer, they then not only deny every form of justice and access to necessary compensation, but actively work against it, including all the so-called Government authorities such as Consumer Affairs Victoria and VCAT with full Government knowledge and support! And the trusting consumer entering into building, not only their Australian dream, but the very basic, of their family shelter, homebase, and also life asset, has no idea of how there is actually: No protection, or fair or timely redress if the tradesmen or pretend or con tradesmen do wrong; how even the industry Building Contracts actually generally totally favor the builders interests; the Building Warranty Insurance is an unclaimable junk product; and with Government orchestration from the top down, it’s well -documented that All the regulatory and compensatory authorities uphold the Builders or even illegal or incompetent pretend con-artists interests! And Mark Whitby makes an excellent point below how with defects not defined, there’s a great place for the authorities to start to deny, minimize and hide from justice! The only solution is to Owner Build with only the most careful selection of tradesmen. VCAn’T, the VBA, BCAV, and Consumer Affairs Victoria must all be completely routed and reinstated with true consumer led representation.

  • Anne Paten

August 2, 2016

Yes John, all documents were buried – the 20 years detailing how badly the BC behaved, and by the 2012 Ombudsman’s Report we learned that this was Govt… approved! Thus, false survey stats on ‘consumer satisfaction’, the policy devised to deliver the exponential increase of ‘disputes’ so damaging to consumers , the stories of the many serial offenders who repeatedly caused horrific harm to many thousands of consumers over decades, etc. But now it is gone – and so it never happened! As for the ‘new’ VBA – new name, but same old ‘culture’!
Re addressing the big questions, the structure is irrelevant. The problems are (i) GOVERNMENT POLICY allowing industry to direct policy, with those to be regulated making up all the ‘regulatory’ Boards and Committees, certifying the ‘regulation’ of themselves! (ii) ZERO ENFORCEMENT by the ‘regulators’ – public officials supporting industry and thus the inevitable enormous pain and suffering to consumers. These two mean that the industry ‘governs’ and there is zero ‘regulation’. (iii) The OFFICIAL PHILOSOPY is based around a cosy, ‘buddy’ culture, whereby the policy and ‘regulatory’ officials are not simply in bed together, they are one and the same. Just imagine the Building Appeals Board meets about a rogue building surveyor. The panel comprises two building surveyors and one lawyer – guess the outcome? Despite the facts and evidence, the surveyor working for a very large volume builder is ‘amazingly’ found to have done no wrong! The ‘official culture’ is to protect all in the business of building – no matter how negligent, how criminal and regardless of the building wreckage/human carnage left behind!
No pollies plan any ‘rectification’ – shamefully, ordinary people do not matter.

Is Victoria Building Authority a Sham?

Is Victoria Building Authority a Sham?

house plan

Number 10 in Top 10 Sourceable Articles for July 2014

8 COMMENTS AND 14 SHARES

Is Victoria Building Authority a Sham? 

A recent Victorian Building Authority media release highlights the sham that is the ‘building regulation regime’ in Victoria.

In the release, titled Costly Lesson in Building Fire Safety, the VBA says that “[a] group of property owners is facing a bill of about $500,000 to fix problems after the VBA issued a building order in response to fire safety concerns.” It sounds impressive, as if the VBA is playing the role of ‘regulator’, but it disguises a significant fact. The builder, surveyor and others involved in building the 55-apartment complex ignored many fire safety regulations and the risk to people’s lives. Yes, this is a “costly lesson for the owners,” but why are the owners responsible for rectification costs when they are not at fault?

For those who build or buy new properties in Victoria, this is a common story and raises all the usual concerns, underscoring the myths and exposing what is effectively an industry without any governance, and one for which consumers bear the financial burden.

Murray Smith from the VBA cites the myth that buildings “must meet fire safety requirements under the Building Regulations 2006.” As this case demonstrates, without enforcement by the VBA, all building practitioners know they can do as they please. With no audits, no enforcement and a minuscule number of cowboys ever given any penalty, those in the building industry realize that no matter how outrageous their conduct, they can ignore all regulations and with complete impunity!

The VBA has now issued an order, but after the fact. Furthermore, the order was not issued to the offenders, but rather to the owners, who are supposed to be protected by the builders’ warranties. This case brings to mind the Childers Palace Backpackers Hostel fire of 2000 in which the hostel did not have working smoke detectors, fire alarms, sprinklers or fire extinguishers, and 15 people lost their lives.

In 2011, the Victorian Auditor General’s Office concluded that “The Commission has not adequately discharged its responsibilities under the Act and its obligations as a regulator” and “there is little assurance that surveyors are carrying out their work competently, that the Act is being complied with and the risk of injury or damage to any person is being minimized.” It is now 2014, three years later and we learn that nothing has changed! “When the plans for the building were developed, there was little consideration for fire safety,” Smith said. “As a result, the owners are now fixing the problem, at a cost of almost $500,000.”

The Building Practitioners Board registered all of the building practitioners, with the VBA’s role to enforce compliance. But be it the Building Commission or the VBA, over two decades, both have failed. They have performed so badly that after two extremely damning reports from the Victorian Auditor General (2011) and the Victorian Ombudsman (2012), they decided in 2013 to put a disclaimer on their website. “Registration with the Building Practitioner’s Board is a minimum legal requirement in order to be able to conduct many building related business activities,” The disclaimer reads: “However, registration does not guarantee that a practitioner has maintained up-to-date technical knowledge or meets the current standards required for registration as a new registered practitioner.” In other words, registration is essentially worthless! What other registration boards would be unable to deliver to the public any confidence in those they registered, such that they would be compelled to make a statement in the form of a public warning? Of course, with building practitioners the public should be warned; whether they are newly registered, or old and ‘grandfathered in,’ consumers are unprotected and in many cases their lives are at risk. However, until 2013 the public was denied this knowledge, with owners unaware of the dangers of building and oblivious to the fact that ‘registration’ was no guarantee of anything. The disclaimer has now been removed from the website and thus owners are once again uninformed, with the truth hidden and consumers exposed to serious harm.

Recently, it was revealed that the Department of Human Services has no confidence in the registration system and it has established its own accreditation board for registering building practitioners involved in Victorian public housing projects. DHS recognizes that the VBA regulation system has been a total failure and abandoned it as ‘not good enough.’ Victorian consumers agree with the DHS. We demand that this sub-standard system be abolished and a new rigorous registration system be established to provide competent builders who can guarantee to construct structurally sound and safe buildings. “It would have saved a lot of money and time for everyone involved if the developers had made sure the required safety measures were installed when the building was constructed,” Smith said. But the fault is not with the developers. It is squarely with the VBA, which failed in its duty of care and allowed the builder and surveyor to construct dangerous, non-compliant buildings.

Smith went on to attribute blame to owners, who he said need to do their ‘homework’ in these matters. “If you are thinking of buying a house or a building, you should consider arranging a professional inspection to make sure it is safe and meets the building regulations before you buy,” he said. This statement is absurd. How can the owners be blamed for not doing their homework when they purchased new apartments that were constructed by practitioners the VBA registered, with the VBA responsible for ensuring that new buildings comply with building regulations?

Second, how would an inspection have helped the owners when, if registered, the inspectors would have obtained their registration from the BPB or VBA? As for self-titled ‘inspectors’ who offer inspections, many are ex-builders, some suspended or de-registered and still others use the title of ‘building consultants’ for which no registration is required. In either case, such an ‘inspector’ would not provide any reassurance to prospective owners.

If the VBA cannot register competent practitioners and cannot enforce building regulations, then no amount of ‘homework’ will protect owners from all the cowboys, whether they are registered or not. The CEO of the VBA, Prue Digby, has said that as the industry regulator, “protecting the safety of the public is a priority” for the VBA. Who could have guessed? Digby is commenting after the building has been constructed, after it was ‘approved’ and after the apartments were sold, after those registered have failed, and after the VBA failed to meet any and all of its obligations!

Worst of all, this case highlights that there is nothing ‘new’ about the VBA. It is a re-named, re-badged Building Commission, with the same old phony registration process, the same old non-enforcement and the same old non-existent consumer protection. The VBA is a sham, camouflaging the scam that is the old policy reinvented as ‘new’, re-branded as the ‘Consumer Protection Strategy.’

Published on 05 July 2014 CONTRIBUTED BY: Anne Paten

Anne Paten is a well-known and highly respected Consumer Advocate and Secretary of the Building Compliance Reform Association…. – See more at: http://sourceable.net/victoria-building-authority-sham/#sthash.fZmzCqYG.dpuf

 

COMMENTS

Heaton says: July 8, 2014 at 3:29 pm Anne, One of the things which strikes me about this whole debacle is the extent to which industry representatives and consumer representatives such as yourself all seem to agree that the process of building industry reform here in Victoria has been shambolic, that there has been a complete lack of genuine consultation on either side, and that neither industry or consumer representatives see these reforms as doing anything to help consumers – only adding costs to builders. Contrast to the situation in Queensland, where reforms there at least at face value appear to promote greater accountability and a new rapid dispute system should reduce the costs and time-frames associated with disputes for parties on both sides. Reply

 

Paul says: July 9, 2014 at 12:26 pm About time someone highlighted this betrayal of trust. A government body whose purpose is to protect consumers through registration of COMPETENT practitioners& take action where proven otherwise. Instead they allow repeatedly incompetent offenders ongoing registration, totally negating their advice to consumers to check registration before engaging a builder but more critically results in consumers being forced to cover the costs of their tardiness & as Anne reminds us, even deaths on occasion. Why were the promised reforms to this regulatory body and Warranty Insurance dropped? Shame on Victoria’s ministers if it was as I suspect, due to pressure from industry groups who stand to lose millions in insurance premium income?

 

Reply Mick says: July 15, 2014 at 7:58 pm Well, what a great description of the current Victorian Building Industry regulator. Matthew Guy announced with great “fanfare” a “new” industry fix regarding the old Building Commission with the Victorian Building Authority. What a great new name change. From an informed and well educated registered practitioner point of view, they failed to bring out the “yard” broom and begin from the top floor and keep sweeping until the building was empty. Replace with industry educated employees that have social conscience and strong moral fibre.

 

Reply Sonya says: July 17, 2014 at 11:22 am A perfect description of the VBA Anne It is disgraceful that such injustice continues at the financial and personal expense of consumers. Purchasing / building a home is one of the single largest investments consumers will make in their lifetime and yet the Government agencies established for the purpose of regulating the building industry and providing consumer protection continue to fail in their duty of care and are not held accountable for their errors! Shame on the Victorian Government – consumers need REAL protection and REAL change, not these phony agencies you have established who offer nothing.

 

Reply Ari says: July 30, 2014 at 3:03 pm Anne there is plenty of merit in what you have said here, and this is coming from a registered building practitioner in the category of Building Surveyor. I do not have any in depth knowledge of the particular matter, but agree wholeheartedly that there are many problems in the industry that have not and are not being properly dealt with. Unfortunately, the VBA does not appear to be listening to sound advice from genuine, unbias and competent industry groups and consumer groups. Many of us from industry have been crying out for years for the real problems to be addressed but to no avail. To make matters worse, there are some very strange proposed changes to the Act that will in my view make matters worse.

Reply Peter says: August 6, 2014 at 9:23 pm A very good description of the regulator(!) in its past and present form. No law seems to apply meaningfully to builders. The question I have is ‘why’? Surly no-one thinks that a Regulator that so blatantly enables practitioners to treat the community with such contempt isn’t encouraged or pressured in this direction very strongly by Industry associations

Reply Andrew says: August 31, 2014 at 10:00 am Home owners have known for years that the VBA was not a regulator in any sense. As for owners needing to pay a ‘Building Inspector’ to inspect brand new buildings, supposedly built by a ‘Registered Builder’ and certified by a ‘Registered Surveyor’, this is crazy. But the lawless domestic building industry is more than crazy. It is outrageous. And as we have learned recently, so many of those posing as ‘Building Inspectors are unregistered, unskilled and numbers of them are failed builders, now unregistered! Prue Digby says that the VBA is “protecting public safety”. Then how are all these cowboys operating outside the law and unpunished? How are so many ‘Inspectors’ masquerading as real and registered? No enforcement of compliance by VBA! Reply – See more at: http://sourceable.net/victoria-building-authority-sham/#comments

 

 

How to Embark On Building a Home and End Up Homeless!

How to Embark On Building a Home and End Up Homeless! 25 August 2014
Number One of Top Ten articles for August 2014
It is ironic that in attempting to build a home, owners through no fault of their own end up homeless!

BUILDING HOME TO HOMELESS

Every part of the ‘con-sumer protection strategy’ has been broken for more than 20 years. Insurance is but one example of the issues with the scheme. For consumers who build or renovate, the Government mandated that they pay for ‘Last Resort’ Builders’ Warranty Insurance. There is no other class of ‘insurance’ operating anywhere in the world like BWI because it is not a typical form of insurance, where one pays a premium to mitigate against risk, with the guarantee of payment if the risk is realised. Owners are forced to pay for what is actually ‘No Resort Insurance’, where 99 per cent of owners have not been able to make a claim, much less get any payout. BWI is ‘non-insurance’, where consumers’ ‘donations’ flow to insurers and brokers.
Introduced in 2002, under the guise of offering consumers limited protection, BWI offers no protection for home owners. In order to trigger this non-insurance, the builder has to die, disappear or become insolvent. Few builders die, fewer disappear only to later be ‘found’ by the insurers. As for insolvency claims, the insurance companies refuse to pay out on genuine claims or offer a pittance of the full entitlement. This scam has proved been a godsend for insurance companies and brokers, the beneficiaries making multi-millions of dollars from consumers’ compulsory donations. In
order to appreciate the magnitude of this swindle, let us look at some statistics. In 2011, it was revealed that during the previous year, more than 53,000 Victorians had paid an estimated $87.8 million for ‘warranty insurance’ on home building projects.
Around $38 million went in premiums, with most of the other $39.8 million gifted to insurance brokers as commissions. The shocking reality is that from this pool of nearly $88 Million, only three owners managed to make successful insurance claims that year, for a grand payout of $108,476! Lots of money went in, but little was paid out, and consequently the minute claims-loss ratio of 0.12 per cent! So much for ‘warranty insurance’ and a safety net. It is a mega million dollar scam!
The best way to appreciate how this scam rewards insurers is to consider a real story. One such case involves Alex Furman and Lana and Igor Kozak. They engaged a ‘registered builder,’ with CBL Insurance Limited providing the BWI. The building phase was disastrous and after years of heartache, the builder declared himself to be insolvent and the BWI was triggered. The owners thought this would offer a lifeline, but no! They lodged a claim with CBL in April 2013, providing all the evidence of defects and invoices to substantiate their expenses. CBL accepted liability for defects in May 2013.
Prior to the builder becoming insolvent, the owners discovered many defects and sought advice from Consumer Affairs Victoria (CAV). Several CAV officials informed them that under the Domestic Building Contracts Act, if they were unable to find a builder willing to rectify as in this case, the original ‘builder’ could be paid for rectification. The owners were assured that this was in line with the DBCA! After lodging their claim with CBL, Alex and the Kozaks provided proof of money paid for materials, rectification works and payments to the builder and trades, and they claimed for work still to be rectified. They answered the many questions put to them by CBL in an endeavour to overcome the hurdles hindering them from achieving a just outcome. When they lodged their claim 16 months ago, the owners were entitled to be paid for all the defects which had been rectified and those still outstanding. At present, a Building Notice is on the property what is built is non-compliant with the Plans. According to the owners, CBL was provided all the supporting evidence for their genuine claim, $740,000 for defects rectified and around $200,000+ for defects yet to be rectified.
However in August 2013, CBL offered a mere $17,500, with a story that the owners had been at fault! But this was false. The ‘offer’ was not based in law and ignored the facts. The owners would not accept the offer as full payment and sent the cheque back to ‘No Risk CBL’; if you do not intend to ever pay out, then there are no risks! To date, CBL has not paid one cent of this legitimate claim!
After CBL offered the paltry payout, blaming the owners for paying the same ‘builder’ for rectification, the owners again contacted CAV. Once more, they spoke to several officials, who confirmed that CBL’s assertions were baseless, and CAV also confirmed that the owners had done nothing wrong and their actions had not jeopardized their genuine right to claim and be paid. In fact, it is unclear as to how this figure was arrived at, and quite apart from the issue of the original builder being paid for rectification works, CBL ignored all the accounts paid by the owners for materials and labour and the amount required to be spent on rectification works.
The owners pleaded for assistance from every quarter – from their local member, Georgie Crozier, who committed to help, but did nothing. Many letters and appeals in person were made to Robert Clark, the ‘junk’ insurance Minister, who gave no response. Then they reached out to Heidi Victoria, Minister for Consumer Affairs, and again got nothing! After three months of CAV considering the case, in August 2014 the owners were informed that CAV would not pursue CBL. CAV’s position now is that it has four entries (of the owners’ calls) recorded, but that these do not disclose that any
Reply
• Lisa Livingston says:
August 30, 2014 at 5:46 pm
In 2012 the Victorian Building Commission found our builder, Bur*^%$ Homes to be responsible for causing the defect of slab heave to our home when they built it. As this article says, BWI is not worth the paper it’s written on and we found the hard way that it didn’t help us at all. The Ministers for Building, Consumer Affairs and the Attorney General’s department have all declined to help us. Mediation through BACV isn’t worth the paper it’s written on because no one will enforce it. Bur*^%$ Homes continue to refuse to compensate us because they think that no one will make them. An inquiry into this unethical, heartbreaking system must be held before it ruins any more lives, like it ruined ours.
Reply
• Judy-Ann Steed says:
August 30, 2014 at 11:22 pm
Congratulations Anne on taking these matters forward on 774’s John Faine program and with me last Thursday 28 August on 3mdr 97.1fm creating more meaningful publicity to raise awareness of consumers’ building plights and in the face of meaningless reforms muted by State Government. If you want to hear just how well Anne aquits herself have a listen just after 9 a.m. by logging on to 3mdr.com, go to programs and the time slot Thursday.
I was so impressed with Anne and her cause, I’ve entered her interview with me in the Walkley Journalist Media awards. Congrats Anne and keep up the good work. Judy-Ann Steed Independent Broadcast Journalist.
Keep up the good work.
Reply
• Alexander says:
August 31, 2014 at 1:00 pm
The Government tolerance to Building Insurances behavior is just outraging. How can they do nothing about injustice of Insurance Companies and support a low, which allow these Greedy Fat Cats to make a billions of dollars without any responsibilities, completely ignoring the claims and robbing people like a usual criminals, destroying their lives.

For Whom Doth the Bell Toll?

If the Andrews Government’s ‘Consumer Protection’ legislation before Parliament is passed, it will have seriously damaging, far-reaching consequences for all Victorians.

The bells have been ringing for more than a decade, but successive governments have muted the dissenters, ignored public protests and muffled the media. However, this time it is different. Along with building consumers, the entire community is outraged. Not only does this legislation void consumers’ human rights, it is disrespectful of us all. Cries through the community are sounding the distress signal and ominously warning the government: for whom doth the bell toll?

CLOCK

Government on the gravy train

The consequences of the current lack of ‘consumer protection’ have been well documented, the government fully informed on the magnitude of the disaster that has swept across the state for the last 20 years. It knows the shocking statistics from government reports – all on the public record. It is very familiar with the ever-escalating numbers of Victorians caught up in what is now the greatest consumer catastrophe in our history, leaving in its wake the destruction of more than 250,000 families each year.

In incremental steps over recent decades, successive governments have abandoned democratic principles and opportunistically boarded the gravy train. Increasingly self-assured and smug, they have locked ‘people’ out, and in defiance of the public interest, fashioned their policies to suit the vested interests.

But in cases like this, there comes a tipping point, a time at which the affront to those damaged incites anger, and anger morphs into action. Hence it is now that time with disadvantaged, exploited building consumers. This legislation is literally the final straw. Building consumers are determined to spotlight their plight and expose the truth of their traumatic stories so far largely covered up; these obscured by government misinformation and secrecy, suppressed under threats from building interests of ‘defamation’ and concealed by official ‘gag orders.’

This time the ranks of disaffected consumers have been swelled by others who are speaking out across the Victorian community. These include many who work in the building industry, local councils, other community organizations, the Metropolitan Fire Brigade and ordinary Victorians.

They have taken umbrage with governments prepared to put profits over people, and in so doing, consciously causing the public serious harm. As the voices of Victorians have been stifled, cynicism has turned to resentment, and animosity converted into calls for action.

The momentum is building as Victorians reflect on being victims of a lawless industry, one enabled by uncontrolled, unaccountable governments and public officials who refuse to govern in the public interest and for the public good. Community hostility has intensified toward our government, especially as the reality of our third world built environment has been revealed, along with the perilous dangers for people forced to live in unsafe buildings.

Vic Community Speaks Out

This ‘Building Legislation Amendment Bill (Consumer Protection) 2015’ is so reprehensible that on February 22, the Victorian Building Action Group wrote to the Premier and relevant Ministers on behalf of building consumers and all Victorians to express a vote of no confidence in the government.

The letter concluded that the reprehensible legislation is: “irrational, unfair and unlawful. It is also unconscionable, an indictment on the Andrews Government and its scandalous betrayal of trust.”

As always with consumers, this elicited no response.

Following the three Victorian Auditor-General’s Reports (2000, 2011 and 2015) and the Ombudsman’s Report (2012) all scathing of the building ‘regulator,’ in July 2015 the walls of a construction pit in Mt Waverly collapsed.

Another failure of the ‘regulator’ was highlighted, with the Manningham Council describing it as “alarming.”

At MAV’s governing council meeting in October 2015, the Manningham Council declared the councils’ and community’s “loss of trust” in the VBA, moving a motion of no confidence in the VBA, with a call to the Andrews Government to protect the community. As expected, the VBA’s CEO Prue Digby responded, saying that the council “had not ‘understood’ the role of the VBA” and that it had “met its aim of expediting building permits to reduce work delays.”

Astoundingly, the VBA’s self-perceived ‘role’ that no-one else ‘understands’ is not a ‘regulatory’ one, with increasing the number of permits the VBA’s ‘aim’ – not safe, compliant and quality buildings. Of course, consumers knew this long ago, but now councils and the community are cognizant too.

Since the Lacrosse building fire in November 2014, the Metropolitan Fire Brigade has spoken out continuously. When the building caught fire, it sent shock waves through the community, no one more shocked than the MFB who for decades were led to think that Victoria had a robust regulatory regime. Justifiably, the MFB was aghast. It had been misled and more disturbingly learned that the community and firefighters had a ‘regulator’ who has never done any ‘regulating.’

Over the past 15 months (not one person held accountable for the Lacrosse fire or other buildings with the non-compliant cladding), the MFB has been highly critical of the VBA – for good reasons. The MFB has published reports, appeared at the 2015 Senate Inquiry and tried to make the government listen. Deputy chief Adam Dalrymple has expressed “grave concerns” with regard to the flammable cladding crisis and “questions whether the VBA understands the extent or consequences of the problem or how to resolve it (Fire Brigade Slams Building Authority, The Australian, December 9, 2015).

Prue Digby’s reply was that she would discuss the “important issues it raises.” Such a condescending response underscored the contempt of officials, not only for the MFB but for consumers and all Victorian residents. Our money, our safety and our lives are of no import, our sad stories not of ‘interest.’

In the MFB’s report on the Reform of the Building Regulatory Regime published in November 2015, perhaps one of the most frightening issues raised was the future “unquantified public and consumer risk.” The MFB report applied the VBA “figure of up to 1% of building permit documentation showing serious non-compliance” and based on this figure calculated that “this means there were potentially 20,000 building permits issued based on documents which are seriously non-compliant.” However, this did not include “buildings built without a building permit, or those buildings where the documentation may have been compliant but the building work is non-compliant.”

For those familiar with the building industry, this is no surprise. But in light of the VBA’s highly unreliable ‘figures,’ one can but imagine the potential 20,000 buildings posing risk as very unrealistic. Scary!

We all know that those in power know the financial loss and heartbreak, the staggering numbers of Victorian deaths from heart attack, stroke and suicide and the impact on those forced into bankruptcy and homelessness through no fault of their own. Sadly and simply, such stories do not seem to register with those in charge.

Governments are spectacularly skilful. They have many helpers on our payroll. They can fool many people much of the time, but as Abraham Lincoln wisely remarked, they “cannot fool all of the people all of the time.”

The bells are ringing, sounding rich in reverberation literally and metaphorically. The pealing portending: for whom doth the bell toll?

Vote of No Confidence in Andrews Government

Dear Premier and Ministers Wynne, Garrett and Scott

As the President of the Victorian Building Action Group, I am writing to you as the Ministers responsible for the duplicitous ‘Consumer Protection’ legislation now before Parliament. We represent the silenced voices of all Victorians who have been ignored and we have NO CONFIDENCE in you as the Government.

The ‘Building Legislation Amendment Bill (Consumer Protection) 2015’ was quietly introduced into Parliament in December 2015, and as you know the Government deliberately excluded all consumers from consultation. This Bill is about to be passed by the Legislative Council and instead of providing any level of ‘protection’ as you have pretended, it will ensure that all Victorian consumers remain totally unprotected. The objective of this Bill could not be further from giving consumers a ‘fair go’. In fact, it continues the 23 year long consumer con!

An examination of the almost 300 pages of this Bill and its Explanatory Memorandum reveal a cruel hoax. Beneath the layers of complexity contrived to be convoluted and confusing, the reality is uncovered: no ‘improvement’ for building consumers. But even worse, under this legislation more consumers will be placed at greater risk of serious harm. Of course as always, consumers were locked out, all their letters and submissions ignored, they were denied any consultation and as the Bill makes manifest, they remain disenfranchised and without any representation. All their voices were sagaciously silenced. It is for this reason that the Victorian Building Action Group has decided to speak out on behalf of all Victorians and to publicly register its vote of NO CONFIDENCE in the Andrews Government.

There have been hundreds of independent reports on the corrupted practices of the building industry and the appalling performance of the ‘regulatory’ agencies over decades. This Bill was supposedly created in response to the most recent highly critical reports from the Victorian Ombudsman (2012) and the Victorian Auditor-General’s Office (2011, 2013 and 2015), but once again the Government has unashamedly failed consumers and all Victorians.

The findings of all reports were scathing of the governance and maladministration of the Building Commission/Victorian Building Authority and Consumer Affairs Victoria, but the 2015 Victorian Auditor-General’s Report also established that every element of the so-called ‘consumer protection’ regime had failed consumers, confirming this to be the case for the last 22 years. Hence, the Government was obligated to address the problems repeatedly identified and should have delivered genuine ‘reform’.

The Government should have focused on tough regulation and good governance as preventative measures to decrease consumer harm, and for the first time it should have afforded owners access to their ‘consumer rights’. However, all those identified as ‘registered’, who should not be registered (Ombudsman 2012 and other Reports) remain licenced. The ‘no enforcement’ policy of the VBA continues unabated. Just consider the Lacrosse Apartment fire; of all those responsible for the non-compliant, dangerous cladding, not one person has been called to account in 15 months – the owner victims are facing a $40 Million bill to make the building safe! And let us reflect on the total lack of accurate and truthful ‘consumer information’ – again no change; the Government agencies’ spin-a-lot continues. Take but one example, the CAV claim of 90% resolution of ‘building disputes’, with CAV’s nonsensical definition of ‘resolution’ that the parties simply identify the “consumer’s problem”!

Thus, instead of cleaning up the industry and its shameful governance, and in the name of ‘protection’, this Bill will continue to deny consumers their supposed ‘consumer rights’, but most disturbingly it will also revoke their human rights! As you know, under Victorian law every new Bill put to Parliament must be compatible with the Victorian Charter of Human Rights and the Government “must not knowingly be in breach of these rights unless there are “exceptional circumstances”. Yet this Government, through Ministers Wynne and Garrett openly declared a Statement of Compatibility before Parliament, but proclaimed that this ‘protection’ legislation is not compatible with the Charter of Human Rights! And there are no “exceptional circumstance”! Paradoxically, this legislation will limit consumers’ rights to access a court or tribunal, to have a fair hearing and rescind their rights to property and privacy.

The main thrust of the legislation as you know is on disputation. Instead of taking positive steps to prevent ‘building disputes’, owners who have building disasters are now to be directed into ‘disputes’ and this compelled by your Government. Consider that there were 35,000 ‘disputes’ in 2002, and under CAV’s leadership, this grew to 256,000 in 2011 – this was 256,000 owners in 2011 who suffered financial detriment in the billions of dollars. This an extraordinary achievement by CAV officials who managed such exponential growth of the ‘building dispute industry’ and managed to damage so many owners. As you would appreciate, this was very predictable, the inevitable result of a lawless industry combined with the assistance of CAV officials acting as business partner to protect builders’ interests. The corollary is clear: this had to be at the expense of not protecting consumers’ interests.

Now, despite their sullied record, the VBA and CAV will be in charge of the ‘new’ arrangements; the VBA as the ‘refuse-to-regulate’ regulator, and CAV as the ‘king of disputes maker’, their assigned roles to ‘control’ consumers into ‘disputes’ for their ‘protection’! In actuality, the VBA and CAV, together with VCAT will continue their ‘old’ roles, protecting the recalcitrant rogue offenders and the vested building industry interests.

This as you know is not the full picture. It is even worse. Under new section 48(1), and in order to circumvent current building law, this Bill creates a new group of ‘Assessors’, who can be “any person in a class of persons”, without any building qualifications or registration! This is absurd – it could be you, me or a street sweeper! Shamefully as you are aware, this is a breach of Section 176 of the Building Act 1993, which stipulates that only qualified, registered Building Inspectors can legally inspect buildings.

Then there is more. These ‘Assessors’ will have powers to write reports which will be used to force owners to pay money to builders – this in breach of the Domestic Building Contracts Act and regardless of builders having no entitlement to any money! Thus Wynne’s way means that although it is illegal under the Building Act, ‘any person’ will now ‘legally’ masquerade as an ‘Assessor’, and based on these Assessors’ fake and false reports, money will be forcibly and illegally extracted from owners. In reality, this is Government authorized building fraud.

This Bill continues the ‘old’ anti-consumer policy. Cleverly contrived to proclaim ‘protection’, it masks the deception that all consumers will remain totally unprotected. Most alarmingly, this Bill is an unlawful decree disguised as ‘lawful’, the pretext of ‘protection’ used to feign legitimacy. It will ‘regulate’ consumers to drive the economy, grow the building industry and create a deluge of disputes as the building dispute industry spirals out of control. All involved will be beneficiaries – except the disadvantaged, vulnerable consumers who will remain isolated and defenceless. The staggering statistics provide the evidence of past failed policy: four in every ten (4:10) consumers suffer financial damage (2011); today it is 5 years later and more likely to be five in every ten – or 50%. The number at perilous risk is now set to skyrocket, with the greatest man-made disaster in our history primed to reach an all-time new record.

This reprehensible legislation is irrational, unfair and unlawful. It is also unconscionable, an indictment on the Andrews Government and its scandalous betrayal of trust.

 

Vic Building Legislation: A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing

The Building Legislation Amendment (Consumer Protection) Bill 2015 tabled in Parliament in December 2015 should set alarm bells ringing throughout the Victorian community.

sheep wolf shadow

The bill is a smokescreen devised to mask the deception of nil ‘consumer protection’ and the pretence has been formulated to feign legitimacy for revoking consumers’ human rights. Disguised as ‘lawful,’ this decree is a veritable wolf in sheep’s clothing!

If this bill were a genuine attempt at improving safeguards for building consumers, logically it would have addressed the problems repeatedly identified as causing consumer harm. The ‘solutions’ are self- evident, preventative measures the key: clean up the industry, introduce sound governance and give consumers a chance to compete in a fair market. However, this bill continues the old anti-consumer policy, with the ‘old’ classic features remaining totally intact and the ‘old’ VBA and CAV in charge.

An examination of the legislation reveals its negative focus on disputation.

Dispute history

Let us begin by considering the path to the current consumer catastrophe, including the colossal number of building disputes, the massive financial loss to consumers and the exponential increase over time. In 2002, there were 35,000 building disputes according to a media release by the building commissioner – hardly insignificant. But in 2002, CAV began its ‘conciliation’ service, supposedly to ensure dispute reduction.

However, as the statistics indicate, CAV was an extraordinary failure if its objective was as stated. From 35,000 disputes in 2002, this rose to 206,000 in 2008 and to 256,000 by 2011 – or 38 per cent of all Victorian building consumers!

In terms of consumers’ financial loss, it was $500 million in 2005, rising to $706 million in 2006, escalating to $1.6 billion in 2008 and reaching an estimated $3 billion in 2011. If we consider building consumers’ financial loss as a percentage of total consumer detriment, it was 22 per cent of total consumer detriment in 2006, 53 per cent by 2008 and not disclosed in 2011, according to the CAV Consumer market Experience Study of 2006, 2008 and 2011.

The irrational rationale

Under Victorian law, every new bill put to Parliament must be compatible with the Victorian Charter of Human Rights, “checked against the Charter,” and “telling Parliament how it relates to human rights.” It can only be incompatible with the Charter “in exceptional circumstances,” and a statement explaining how/why human rights came to be ignored is compulsory. Minister Wynne’s Statement of Compatibility declared this legislation as incompatible, his reasoning being that violation of human rights was a necessary precondition for ‘protecting’ consumers. Thus, regardless of their wishes, the ‘protective’ path for consumers is forced disputation and human rights nullification.

First, Wynne acknowledged the breach of an owners’ right to access a court or tribunal, requiring owners to “refer the dispute to the dispute resolution service” before being “entitled to commence proceedings in VCAT or a court.” He rationalized that “no less restrictive alternative is reasonably available” and “it is my view the right is a reasonable limit.” This is his justification for incompatibility with the Charter.

This new body will have extraordinary legally binding powers to forcibly extract money from owners to give to builders – this under CAV, which has an abominable record on dispute resolution and protecting consumers.

Second, Wynne argued it reasonable to violate a consumer’s right to a fair hearing by making dispute resolution compulsory for consumers, stating: “it is my view the right is a reasonable limit.” In his statement defending the bill’s compatibility, Wynne argued that the ‘old’ dispute resolution process “has a 90 per cent resolution rate but its voluntary nature… limits its effectiveness.” If we accept this figure and Wynne’s reasoning, such a successful outcome on a voluntary basis would negate any argument for mandatory disputes!

The horrendous dispute statistics above make it clear that this ridiculous 90 per cent claim is untrue. Almost 40 per cent of consumers suffered enormous financial detriment via ‘disputes’ in 2011, yet Wynne quoted a 90 per cent resolution rate.

On this point, CAV’s definition of ‘resolved’ is insightful; according to the Consumer Confidence and market Experience Study 2010-2011, “The term ‘resolved’ is used to mean that the consumer and the trader or supplier had reached an agreement about the consumer’s problem.”

According to this, ‘resolve’ does not mean ‘finding a resolution!’ This fallacious storytelling renders the 90 per cent claim ridiculous. Also telling is the victim blaming, with disputes being seen as the “consumer’s problem” and the irrational supposition that since consumers are the problem, they must be ‘regulated’ into disputes and punished.

Further calling into question CAV’s performance is this staggering statistic from the CAV Consumer Experience’ Report of 2008: “44% of problems with home building were unresolved.”
But there’s more! In 2013, the Auditor General found CAV had falsified the ‘consumer satisfaction’ statistics in its annual reports. And, despite 256,000 building consumers suffering financial loss in 2011, CAV concluded its 2011 Report on Consumer Experience: “This study shows that the Victorian market environment is working effectively.”

This CAV will continue to ‘control’ disputes and damage consumers. Obviously, CAV’s credibility as Wynne’s basis for mandating disputes and breaching human rights is discredited.
How can CAV and the VBA, with their blighted history on the public record ‘dictate’ the dispute arrangements? Consider the craziest of claims, Wynne’s assurance that the VBA will use “suitably qualified conciliators and technical assessors capable of examining domestic building work.”

This is not so! Under new section 48(1), an assessor can be:
• an architect registered under the Architects Act 1991
• a building practitioner registered under the Building Act in a prescribed category or class
• a person in a prescribed class of persons.

According to this, assessors can be any building practitioner – say a demolisher! Or it could be any ‘person’ without any building qualifications or expertise! All have powers to inspect buildings, write reports nominating a building as defect free and to invoke orders compelling owners to pay money to builders who have no entitlement to payment!

This is not just illogical, but illegal. Section 176 of the Building Act stipulates that only registered building inspectors can legally inspect buildings. Unregistered imposters do not qualify. But Wynne’s way, breaching the Building Act, removes any impediment to ‘protecting’ the cowboys!

Third, the Charter protects a person’s right not to have his or her privacy unlawfully or arbitrarily interfered with. Wynne explained his willingness to contravene the Charter by saying “In my view, while the exercise of the entry power may interfere with the privacy of an individual in some cases, any such interference will not be arbitrary” and adding that “Any resulting interference with privacy will occur lawfully under these provisions.”

In layman’s language, Wynne’s overreach of his position and powers has him deem the unlawful contravention of the Charter and rescinding our human right to privacy as lawful, demonstrating his contempt for consumers and the law.

Fourth, under the Charter, a person’s right not to be deprived of their property other than in accordance with law is protected.
“It is unlikely in my view that any exercise of this power will result in any real deprivation of property,” Wynne reasons, adding that “should it result in any deprivation of property, I am satisfied it would occur in accordance with law.”

As above, Wynne has rationalized deprivation of our right to property as lawful by his decree and thus justified the unlawful breach of the Charter of Human Rights!
In conclusion, it is not surprising that this bill defies rationality. How could one possibly justify breaching the Charter of Human Rights and violating consumers’ inalienable rights to ‘protect’ them?

By Anne Paten
Monday, February 22nd, 2016