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Victorian Policy & Advocacy Update

The latest Victorian advocacy and policy updating including the building reform discussion paper, heritage advocacy and more.

BUILDING REFORM DISCUSSION PAPER RELEASED

The independent Building Reform Expert Panel (the Panel) leading Victoria’s review of its building legislative and regulatory system released its much-anticipated discussion paper, Framework for Reform, on Wednesday 7 April.  The discussion paper is available on the Engage Victoria website here

The discussion paper that has been released by the Victorian Government leads the consultation and development of its strategy for the first phase of Victoria’s three phase building reform process.

In Stage One, the Expert Panel (the Panel), which has oversight of the review, is including the following four aspects of the building regulatory system: 

  • Practitioner registration
  • Building approvals
  • Regulatory oversight
  • Consumer protection.

In Stage Two, the Panel will identify opportunities to improve building information, regulator tools and powers, statutory duties of care as well as consider any further improvements in the Stage One reforms. In Stage Three, the Panel will consider the legislative framework for the new Building Act. This approach enables significant changes to start to be implemented in 2021, with further reforms to be delivered in 2022 and, finally, a new Building Act in 2023.

Important reference points for the discussion paper are the Building Confidence Report (a.k.a. Shergold Weir) and the National Registration Framework that has been developed by the Australian Building Codes Board and is being prioritised by the Building Ministers’ Meeting of the National Cabinet for adoption by all States and Territories.

The Institute’s Policy and Advocacy Team and the Victorian Chapter have undertaken an initial appraisal of the 129-page discussion paper to assess the key implications of proposed reforms. Initially, the Institute has focussed its attention to the key issues and improvements proposed to address them in relation to practitioner registration and practitioner regulation as presented in the discussion paper. Below are two very acute issues we have identified.

Unregistered practitioners.

The paper has highlighted that “in relation to design practitioners, there is no requirement under the Architects Act, Building Act or Building Regulations that those who prepare design documentation must be registered” (p43.). The paper proposes that all people undertaking work on a building will be required to be registered or licensed in some way in a given a practitioner category and class. While this is a positive move to increase accountability, the potential risks that have been identified in the Institute’s analysis are the impacts for  those Architecture graduates and students who are working in practices and who are not currently registered.

A second key concern is the comment made in the discussion paper,

Some stakeholders also consider that the separate regulation of design practitioners under the Building Act and of architects under the Architects Act fragments regulatory oversight of persons involved in building design. The inconsistent approach to regulation of those involved in design may contribute to poor quality and inconsistency of design documentation during the early stages of building works. (p77-78)

Reregulation of practitioners.

The discussion paper proposes in summary fashion to “consider reform to structure of the current regulatory oversight framework” (p83) but more specifically proposes in the preceding detail that,

 For example, the practitioner regulator functions of the VBA could be expanded to include architects and the current functions of the ARBV. This option is also consistent with recommendations in the Building Confidence Report to achieve greater consistency in the regulation and oversight of design practitioners and building industry participants across the construction process. (p82)

What is different about the re-regulation proposal of from 2012/13 is that there is much stronger pressure for structural change. The 2012/13 change was internally driven in Victoria. However, in this current situation, there are the National Cabinet agenda of the Building Ministers’ Meeting responding to the Building Confidence Report as well as the ABCB’s National Registration Framework as drivers for change.

There are a complex risks that could result from proposed re-regulation with regard to the current overall status of Architects as a profession with protected title, a robust national competency framework, a regulated code of conduct,  and an active continuing professional development requirement as part of the current registration renewal system in Victoria. Anything that dismantles these elements would disrupt the profession in Victoria and potentially place national mutual recognition within Australia and with New Zealand at risk as well as the overall, public confidence in the standing of Victorian Architects locally and in national and international markets.

These are just two issues, amongst others that the Institute will respond to as it prepares a submission for lodgement in the coming weeks. Mindful of the rapid turnaround time, we will work with various groups across the Chapter to ensure that a unified voice is presented on key issues.

HERITAGE ADVOCACY

The Victorian Chapter is currently resolving whether to make submission on the recent permit application P33300 that was advertised by Heritage Victoria for a proposed new construction at 1 Spring Street (formerly known as Shell House). The Institute regards the proposal to construct a new tower over the podium as one that would diminish the totality of the building on its site – one of the definitive works of the late Harry Seidler. The Victorian Chapter has been seeking the views of a number of stakeholders and members of the profession. The Institute does not criticise the large body of expert work that has been carried out, attendant to the permit application, nor the design of a proposed new building, all of which were available for public scrutiny for fourteen days on the Heritage Victoria website.

More simply, the Institute has, from a heritage perspective, considered the matter of undertaking any form of work that changes the fundamental nature of an already heritage listed and significantly awarded site. We will keep members informed about the outcome of this process.

EOI and RFT

The Policy and Advocacy Manager has received a letter from the Victorian Minister for the Local Government, the Hon Shaun Leane MP, in response to our Victorian Chapter State Budget submission that we sent to Minister Leane in January. We sent Minister Leane our State Budget submission in January bringing to his attention Recommendation (2) as follows,

To ensure fair and open procurement for Architecture services that maximises economic benefits and creates a rich legacy of community and public buildings and urban space, the Australian Institute of Architects recommends that the Victorian Government:

  • references and advises use of the Australian Institute of Architects’ Guidelines: Expressions of interest and Requests for Tender for Architectural services (the Guidelines) as an adjunct to its procurement policies,
  • extends this advice as a condition of funding to all relevant Victorian Government partnerships and funding agreements,
  • recommends to all Victorian Local Government Authorities to implement the Guidelines, and promotes to other governments and agencies, by its own examples, fair and responsible procurement that improves the likelihood of improved built outcomes for the public.

Included in his reply, is the Minister’s advice that updated procurement guidelines for Local Government are currently being prepared by the Victorian Government  which will be developed in consultation with local government authorities and peak bodies such as the Institute. The Minister’s corresponded provides a clear indication of a window of opportunity to promote the Institute’s EOI and RFT guidelines to local government in Victoria through the machinery of government itself. Again, we will keep members informed about the outcome of this important  piece of advocacy.