Quality the only way to rebuild consumer trust in construction

The Australian Institute of Architects has repeated its calls for greater independent oversight of development and building processes to embed quality in construction and to properly protect people’s homes, financial security and, ultimately, their personal safety.

The ABC’s Four Corners investigation into the state of Australia’s construction industry that aired last night highlighted many of the issues the architectural profession’s peak body has been campaigning on for the past few years.

National President, Professor Helen Lochhead, said the Institute had been at the forefront of sustained efforts to encourage nationwide reform and improved regulation of Australia’s building and construction industry.

‘Insufficient regulation, a lack of proper oversight by independent, appropriately qualified professionals and a failure to put quality and safety above time and cost savings are the key contributing factors that have led to the current crisis,’ Professor Lochhead said.

‘What’s most distressing is the human impact of these regulatory, compliance and construction failures. Short term time and cost savings have had long term impacts on the end users. Peoples’ safety and fundamental security is under threat by poor quality buildings.

‘The Four Corners’ report clearly demonstrates the perils of inadequate documentation, non-conforming and unsafe product substitution, and the rise of design and construct contracts that either cut out or fundamentally compromise the ability of architects to oversee quality.

‘The Institute has been calling out these issues for years. As part of our code of conduct, architects have a clearly defined duty of care to the community, not just the immediate client. It’s past time this was extended to all professionals in the building and construction industry.

‘At a national and state and territory level we’ve provided evidence and submissions to numerous inquiries, shining a light on the issues and the breakdowns in process and regulation that have been behind them.

‘As recently as last Friday we testified as part of the NSW Public Accountability Committee’s parliamentary inquiry into regulation of building standards, building quality and building disputes.

‘The Institute has been consistently focused on putting forward practical solutions that governments can adopt to help restore quality, enhance consumer protection and, eventually, rebuild public trust.

‘Through our national team and each of our state and territory chapters we are committed to ensuring governments deliver on their commitment to implement every one of the Shergold-Weir Building Confidence report’s recommendations.

‘Most importantly, we are demanding that independent oversight is reintroduced into the building process.

‘This means having a dedicated person, such as a Clerk of Works, physically present on the building site to check that the right materials are being used, the correct processes are being followed, and no corners are being cut.

‘This person must be completely independent of the builder both financially and in terms of reporting lines.

‘As the Four Corners’ investigation so clearly highlighted, this is one of the major deficiencies in the current system that must be urgently addressed.

‘Our priority is to see legislation passed expeditiously in each jurisdiction that requires the registration of a broad range of building professionals, in the same way architects have been for almost a century.

‘We want to see clear accountability assigned to every single person who works on a major construction project for their work.’

The Institute is also seeking to build industry consensus for reform, working collaboratively with other peak bodies to present solutions to government that have broad-based support.