VBA Mail – April 2021

The VBA has hit the ground running in 2021, as it embarks on a host of exciting new projects and maintains its visible presence as Victoria's trusted principal building and plumbing regulator. VBA CEO Sue Eddy delves into some of the organisation's major achievements and projects during recent months.

A message from the CEO

In December, we spoke about a year that challenged us all and the important role the building, construction and plumbing sectors would play in Victoria’s economic recovery.

Despite the pandemic, 2020 saw a 10 per cent increase in the number of building permits issued in Victoria, with increases across the state.

With 113,430 building permits issued last year, the activity within Victoria’s building industry was greater than anyone could have anticipated this time last year.

This is a very positive sign and shows that Victoria’s building and plumbing industries have so far managed to successfully navigate the pandemic. It also highlights the importance of the building, construction and plumbing sectors in Victoria’s recovery efforts.

We do know however, that some parts of the industry are not seeing the same results as others. While domestic building enjoyed a 14 per cent increase in the number of permits issued, residential building permits dropped by 18 per cent.

To support those in the industry suffering financially, the VBA offered fee relief to those practitioners on JobSeeker and JobKeeper. To date, more than $533,000 in fees have been waived for more than 1600 building practitioners and 570 plumbers. While JobKeeper concluded on 28 March 2021, those on JobSeeker can apply before the scheme ends on 30 June 2021.

More than a year since the State of Emergency was declared, industry bodies, unions, regulators, and practitioners have worked together to meet the community’s appetite for new construction projects.

Both the Federal and State Governments have backed that appetite with significant investments and stimulus packages, recognising the important role we will all play in this economic recovery.

The scale of projects underway or in the pipeline brings its own set of challenges. As widely reported over recent weeks, building and construction businesses are experiencing delays in being able to secure trades. This, coupled with global shortages of products like timber and steel, is something government and industry bodies are working to address.

As we work together to navigate these challenges, the VBA’s focus remains on improving industry standards.

One of the most significant changes to occur in the first quarter of this year, was the introduction of the Code of Conduct for Building Surveyors in January, which is designed to increase the understanding of a building surveyor’s role and create a level playing field for the building surveying profession. Early indications of the Code’s impact are positive and consumer awareness seems high.

Part of lifting standards and ensuring the safety of Victorians, is the Victorian Government’s ban on high-risk combustible cladding products. The ban has provided certainty and will help drive confidence in the industry as a whole.

Another aspect of our commitment to ensure buildings are compliant is working with industry to address issues we see during construction. If practitioners are informed clearly and supported appropriately, then it is not unreasonable to expect compliance and good performance.

Now that our Proactive Inspections Program (PIP) is well established, the VBA is publishing common non-compliances online to keep industry informed and to support those practitioners who seek to ensure their own work meets compliance standards.

The most recently released report highlighted the 2520 inspections that were conducted across 50 Victorian municipalities between October and December 2020.

The VBA’s Practitioner Education Series is now up and running. In March, we hosted our first virtual masterclass, with more than 800 attendees tuning in to a webinar from our Principal Fire Safety Engineer, Dr Weng Poh, who discussed the requirements for the construction of fire rated elements.

Last week, more than 700 attendees tuned in to hear about conflicts of interest during design. To register for future masterclasses and watch any sessions you may have missed, visit the VBA website.

The VBA’s commitment to research and helping the next generation of industry get relevant experience is also highlighted by two recently launched programs.

The VBA’s Grant Program provides opportunity for Australian researchers to submit proposals aligned to the VBA’s research priorities of safer building or plumbing work, skilled practitioners, a technologically advanced industry, and confidence in the regulatory system.

Applications closed on 28 February 2021 for the inaugural round, with 56 applications received from 17 Australian educational institutions.

Applicants have sought to collaborate with the VBA on areas such as fire safety, building design, product information, and construction waste, to security of payments, practitioner skills and competencies, workplace health, and safety and project management.

Evaluation of applications is in progress, with successful grant recipients to be announced in July.

The VBA has also joined forces with the Victorian Managed Insurance Authority (VMIA) and Domestic Building Dispute Resolution Victoria (DBDRV) to create a Building Surveyor Career Pathways Program.

The initiative sees final year students and graduates apply their academic knowledge to real situations in a dynamic environment, gaining invaluable on-the-job experience.

Recruits will spend six months at each of the organisations over 18 months, with the inaugural six participants already hitting the ground running.

Reforming Victoria’s building legislative and regulatory system has been a topic of discussion for some time.  The VBA is pleased to see the Building Reform Expert Panel release its Framework for Reform discussion paper, a once in a generation chance to shape the future of the sector. I would encourage you to participate in the review, because having a variety of voices heard is the best way we can affect change.

While it has already been a busy start to the year, we know there are many changes ahead.

The Automatic Mutual Recognition (AMR) of occupational licences program, which aims to break down barriers that have existed for decades and allow practitioners across many sectors to operate more freely across state lines will lead to regulatory change in Victoria.  The draft Mutual Recognition Amendment Bill 2020 (MRA Bill), is currently being considered by Federal Parliament.

In July, structural, civil, electrical, mechanical, and fire safety engineers will have their registrations with the VBA moved to the Business Licensing Authority (BLA).

The new mandatory registration scheme will require professional engineers to meet qualification and experience requirements to be registered, and to complete continuing professional development to renew their registration every three years.

The scheme will enable Victorians to engage and use engineering services with greater confidence and will increase accountability within the profession.

The building industry, like many other industries, is now relying on technology more than ever to keep worksites open and building projects going.

At the VBA we are working to deploy this safe and reliable digital technology to improve the regulatory interface with industry and the Victorian community. Work is underway to enable changes, such as online examinations and the ability to access licence and registration details through online portals for greater convenience.

The year ahead will be full of opportunity and challenges.  We, as the VBA, have the chance to create significant positive change in the construction, building and plumbing sectors. Maintaining unapparelled cooperation will put us in good stead to get through any challenges and provide Victorians with a strong, resilient and compliant building and plumbing industry.

Sue Eddy 
Chief Executive Officer 
Victorian Building Authority

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