VBA Mail – December 2019

Melbourne skyline with crane

As 2019 draws to a close, we’re about to tick over not just another year, but another decade.

And it’s safe to say that this has been a decade that has given the building and plumbing industry plenty to reflect on.

A message from the CEO

Over the past ten years, we have witnessed major changes in the industry, with the widespread adoption of new building materials, modernised regulations, innovation in construction methods and, not least, the creation of the Victorian Building Authority through the merger of the former Building and Plumbing Industry Commissions.

I think we are all well aware that the road behind us has been far from smooth.

In the past decade, we saw a hungry market that drove an unprecedented construction boom, particularly in apartments.

But while the boom initially looked positive for the industry, it also delivered unacceptable increases in building defects and non-compliant work, which, coupled with regulatory failures, clearly had a major impact on public safety, the industry and reputations.

Where we find ourselves now is with a raft of questions still being asked about industry culture, best practice and, of course, combustible cladding. Given the market nervousness, there is now concern regarding the availability of professional indemnity insurance for surveyors and engineers.

Industry has sought a nationally consistent implementation of all of the recommendations of the 2018 Building Confidence report to restore confidence in the building industry and develop a stronger building and construction sector.

We are pleased this has been agreed to by Building Ministers across Australia.

As a member of the Australian Building Codes Board, it has been pleasing for me to witness first-hand the team’s extensive work so far in the implementation of priority reforms. These reforms, with political support, will soon be part of the work we do every day at the VBA.

We’re making progress, but there is plenty more to be done, and we will continue into 2020 and beyond to build and sustain a better Victorian industry.

But as we pause to reflect, we should also recognise the many positive milestones of the past ten years.

Certainly, one major step forward came out of the horrific Black Saturday bushfires of February 2009 and was the turning point in national bushfire preparedness, with Victoria now leading the nation in the adoption of some of the most stringent fire regulations in the world.

2011 saw the Building Code of Australia and the Plumbing Code of Australia consolidated appropriately into the National Construction Code. And the formation of the VBA on 1 July 2013 took two separate but interdependent parts of the building industry and made them one.

This edition of VBA Mail examines the past, present and future of building in Victoria.

The VBA and the industry have faced many challenges and considerable change throughout these past ten years. We at the VBA have learnt much and we will continue into the new decade with the same determined resolution to protect public safety.

We know next year, and perhaps the new decade, will be another challenging time for all of us in this critical industry, with more legislative changes and reforms scheduled to roll out from 2020.

As the clock strikes midnight on 31 December 2019, the New Year and new decade will usher in a new era for the VBA.

On 31 January 2020, we will bid farewell to Dr Owen Donald, our Chief Commissioner, who is leaving the VBA when his term expires.

Dr Donald has steered the VBA through a period of enormous transformation, leading the VBA from a passive regulator to one that has put public safety at the very heart of all decisions. Under his leadership, we are confident the VBA has adapted to a changing environment and that we are on the right path, one that will see us increase our commitment to doing more to restore the confidence of Victorians in the quality, safety and durability of their buildings.

I want to thank you all for your open engagement, collaboration and preparedness to adapt during 2019 and I look forward to seeing you all in 2020. The New Year marks the start of a new decade and a new opportunity for us all to leave the industry in a better place when the clock ticks over to 2030.

I would like to take this opportunity to wish everyone a safe and happy festive season and hope you all enjoy the precious time spent with your loved ones and friends.

Take care,

Sue Eddy
Chief Executive Officer
Victorian Building Authority

In this edition...

A decade in review: Building, plumbing and the VBA

In December 2009, the Building Commission and the Plumbing Industry Commission moved from their separate Melbourne operating locations to the Goods Shed North, part of the refurbished heritage railway sheds in the development of Docklands.

The move was the next logical step in the gradual integration of Victoria’s building and plumbing regulatory regimes into a new ‘one-stop shop’.

A decade in review: The state of the industry

In 2010, Victoria’s population was 5.4 million. The construction industry contributed $36 billion to the State’s GDP, fuelled by the work of 44,158 registered building and plumbing professionals.

External wall cladding was a new material – popular with designers for its light weight, ease of use and aesthetic qualities. While the product was viewed as energy efficient, there were issues with compliance and combustibility, and over time, the material would find its way onto thousands of high-rise buildings during Victoria’s construction boom.

New registration pathways for building surveyors and building inspectors

To help alleviate the pressure of entry and support registration retention, the VBA is now considering applications for the category of Building Surveyor (Limited), where the applicant’s practical experience is restricted to class 1 and 10 buildings.

Building surveyors’ Code of Conduct

Implementing a code of conduct for building surveyors was a key recommendation of the 2018 Building Confidence report and it will be a key element of the VBA’s work in 2020 and beyond.

A decade in review: Energy and efficiency

Over the past decade, energy efficiency and sustainability have become increasingly integral to the design and build process, as Victorian consumers demand greater attention be given to energy and water-saving initiatives.

Consumers are motivated not just by their own comfort and reduced operating costs, but by genuine concerns for the broader environmental and sustainability impacts of buildings. And Victoria is proudly at the forefront of evolving green initiatives.

Cladding: A defining (and troubling) marker of the decade

The presence of non-compliant external wall cladding on apartment buildings, multi-storey residential buildings, hospitals, schools and aged-care facilities has been a defining and troubling marker of the decade, as well as a catalyst for major regulatory change.

Cladding rectification levy expected to commence on 1 January 2020

An additional building permit levy is being introduced by the Victorian Government to fund rectification works by Cladding Safety Victoria.

Improving building safety management, essential safety measures and maintenance of wet fire safety systems

From 2020, the VBA will seek to work with the strata industry to improve building safety management, particularly with regards to improving and upgrading management plans of essential safety measures. Safety obligations also apply to buildings for which the VBA is the municipal building surveyor.

A decade in review: Conducting research to benefit the industry

The VBA conducts and promotes research relevant to the regulation of the building and plumbing industries in Victoria.

Over the past decade, this has included participation in programs such as Swinburne University of Technology’s research on minimisation of damage to residential structures due to ground movement, and a partnership with the Low Carbon Living Cooperative Research Centre to identify how information, education, best practice regulation, codes and standards could maximise low carbon living outcomes in new and renovated buildings.

We have also provided support for various bushfire-related programs, such as private bushfire shelters, flame-zone window screens and a bushfire attack level assessment in response to the February 2009 Black Saturday bushfires.

PI insurance: Time for a national approach

Professional indemnity insurance has become a high-profile target and victim of combustible cladding issues. Throughout 2019, the VBA has been working closely with DELWP, industry member organisations, insurers and brokers to assess the status of the professional indemnity market. Unfortunately, fewer insurers remain in the market, resulting in further tightening of availability.

The decade ahead: Trades registration, digital transformation

Carpenters will be the first group of trades required to register with the VBA under the state’s recently developed trades registration framework, while development of a digital registration system starts next year.

2020 and beyond: The road ahead

For more than two decades, the Victorian building industry has experienced nation-leading growth, with the booming industry bringing prosperity and challenges. As a result, we will all have legacy issues to face in the next decade.