Greens win building and fair trading legislation amendment

Abigail speaks in parliament about the need to further the work of the NSW Building commissioner. 

The Greens were able to achieve passage of an amendment to this much needed legislation. 

Ms ABIGAIL BOYD (16:49): I speak on behalf of The Greens in support of the Building and Other Fair Trading Legislation Amendment Bill 2022, which furthers the important work of the NSW Building Commissioner. I note that this work was championed by former member of this place Senator David Shoebridge, who has been named a few times today in different contexts.

The Greens welcome the move towards greater transparency and accountability for dodgy builders. The public deserves to be able to access information about each active stop-work order. The mandatory publishing of this information, as well as providing for publishing of voluntary undertakings at the NSW Building Commissioner's discretion, is a good step towards reinstating public oversight of the building industry. The Greens also welcome the introduction of decennial liability insurance to protect apartment building owners from structural defects affecting the building's integrity for up to 10 years after construction, even when a builder has phoenixed or otherwise dissolved. This reform has long been called for by professional bodies, including the Insurance Council of Australia, Engineers Australia and Consult Australia.

The Greens have significant concerns, however, with the fact that taking out this insurance will be voluntary rather than mandatory. As stated in the Public Accountability Committee further inquiry into the regulation of building standards, it will create a two-tier apartment market where those with sufficient resources can buy higher-quality and higher-cost apartments with adequate insurance protection while those who do not will be limited to less safe, defect-ridden buildings with high ongoing maintenance costs. I raised this with the Minister in the crossbench briefing. I understand that we are effectively testing it at this point and the intention is that, all going well, we will eventually move to this being mandatory rather than voluntary.

There is still further work to do to clean up the building industry. We need to reinstate adequate building standards, end private certification and restore public oversight. That work must be accompanied by setting up a standalone building commission, not just a single overstretched commissioner, to fix the construction industry and give homeowners faith in building standards. With those brief remarks, I again acknowledge that The Greens support the bill. We have one important amendment, which I will speak to in the Committee stage.

Ms ABIGAIL BOYD (16:57): I move The Greens amendment No. 1 on sheet c2022-181A:

No. 1 Home Building Act 1989

Page 4, Schedule 1. Insert after line 27—

1.2A Home Building Act 1989 No 147

Section 33A Disqualification from holding authorities

Insert after section 33A(1)—

(1A) The Secretary may determine that an individual, or a body corporate or partnership with which the individual is associated, is disqualified from holding an authority, other than an owner-builder permit, if satisfied that the individual has previously engaged in conduct that led to a disqualification of another person.

Those familiar with the case of Alexandra Forwood would know the issue that this amendment is trying to solve. I raised it during the most recent round of budget estimates. A builder was found to have performed defective, incomplete work that resulted in physical harm to the building owner. The builder was then fined for several breaches and had their company's licence was surrendered. They were deregistered. It was a clear case of defective and incomplete work, yet the builder was able to turn up to Fair Trading and have their individual building licence renewed, despite their company being refused authorisation. That is a clear error in the system.

When The Greens raised this with the Fair Trading commissioner, we were told that there was a legislative issue and that it would be made easier if we were to tighten up that regulatory loophole. That is what the amendment is seeking to do. I particularly thank the Minister's office for working with The Greens to make the amendment the best it can be. I commend the amendment to the Committee.

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