Building Professionals Amendment (Information) Bill 2016

Dr HUGH McDERMOTT ( Prospect ) ( 20:58 ): I join in debate on the Building Professionals Amendment (Information) Bill 2016 to point out that, after being asleep at the wheel, the Baird Government has finally decided to introduce legislation that would address concerns raised by the statutory review of the current Building Professionals Act 2005. Although a number of issues were raised by the statutory review, this bill deals with only one issue—information sharing. In 2014 the Baird Government commissioned a statutory review into the Building Professionals Act. The review was led by former Treasury Secretary, Michael Lambert. One year ago, in October 2015, 10 priority areas for reform were identified.

The only priority that this bill deals with is priority No. 3, titled in the review as " Implement an information systems strategy for the building regulation and certification system". New South Wales is still waiting for the Baird Government to get a move on with legislating the other nine priority areas for reform, but will have to wait until 2017 at the earliest when the proposed Building and Development Certifiers Bill is finally read. There is a need for reform in building certification in New South Wales. There is a lack of resources, slow complaint-handling and barely any power, or regulatory teeth provided for the current regulator, the Building Professionals Board. Given that nine of the 10 priority areas have been ignored in this bill, the bill's objective as described in Parliamentary Counsel's explanatory note is fairly straightforward:

The Building Professionals Board is authorised to enter into information sharing arrangements with councils, State and Commonwealth agencies and other persons and bodies that may be prescribed by regulations to share information relating to the certification or regulation of, or statutory insurance requirements relating to, building work.

It goes on:

The purpose of sharing the information will be to assist the Board and the other party to the arrangement in the exercise of functions relating to the certification or regulation of, or statutory insurance requirements relating to, building work.

Given that the objective of the bill is so narrow, the Minister for Innovation and Better Regulation spent fewer than 13 minutes in his second reading speech introducing the bill despite having an unlimited time to speak.

Mr Jai Rowell: What a brave Minister. You would have been inspired.

Dr HUGH McDERMOTT: I was inspired and that is why I am standing here now. Even then, some of the Minister's speech was dedicated to addressing an entirely different area of reform, that of strata laws. The Opposition welcomes the new regulation-making powers that will be given to Fair Trading to obtain information about persons who conduct accreditation work, accreditation holders and certifying authorities. Furthermore, the additional powers will enable councils and other agencies that exercise function with regard to certification, building insurance and building regulation to enter into information-sharing agreements. However, I must channel the Minister in digressing. In his second reading speech, the Minister said:

The bill allows for the department to obtain information from other agencies to ensure the certifier accreditation scheme in New South Wales is more robust, responsive and effective at ensuring only appropriate individuals are able to operate in the industry.

It is worth noting that the Minister's current interest in "ensuring only appropriate individuals are able to operate in the industry" is highly peculiar, after the last legislation he passed—and on which I spoke—removed licencing requirements for debt collectors, which is the opposite to what this legislation proposes. Considering the amount of time the Baird Government has taken to introduce this one reform, I am not optimistic about the further priority areas requiring reform as identified in the Lambert review. These include a new principles-based Act combining relevant provisions of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act and the Home Building Act for better and clearer regulation, strengthening the administration of building regulation and certification, enhancing the accountability and clarifying the role of certifiers and establishing a partner model between State and local government.

Although I note that this bill is half a step in the right direction for the establishment of this partner model, allowing Fair Trading to establish regulations, as well as promising to engage with councils in preparing those regulations, is what the Opposition welcomes in what the Government is doing. Achieving and maintaining a best practice regulation and certification system is important. Enhancing professionalisation of certifiers through accreditation, education, training and support, improving the time lines and effectiveness of complaint handling, enhancing the sustainability of professional indemnity insurance and appropriate resources and funding are also important. I note that the Baird Government already has a track record when it comes to increasing the burden on Fair Trading without correspondingly increasing its resources. Any reforms need to be fully and properly funded by this Government.

As noted by the Minister, the building industry is important to the future of New South Wales and requires regulation to keep up with the times. The new system of information sharing—rather than the current system, which was described by the Minister as "information wasting"—must be implemented in an effective way, and I am cautiously optimistic. I note that the Minister outlined his aim for the department to consult with software developers to create a working product, naming MyGov and FuelWatch as examples that he seeks to emulate. Whilst the contract to develop this online service will go out to tender, I suspect that the Minster already has a good idea of who will be developing the software.

Furthermore, I take this opportunity to warn the Minister and department of what can go wrong with the development of new software, citing the Census debacle in July this year. Even one of the world's biggest information technology companies can get it wrong, and concerns regarding capability and data security in any reforms must be paramount. In conclusion, the Opposition supports this bill, but notes the delays by the Baird Government in implementing the first of 10 necessary reforms. New South Wales deserves a full and adequate government response to the issues facing building certifiers, something that is currently being withheld.

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