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Risks rife in flawed building oversight: Auditor-General

In a report into the Victoria’s multi-billion-dollar construction industry, the Auditor-General said public safety and building standards had been compromised by the system of privatisation where surveyors often put their business interests ahead of their statutory role as “gatekeepers of safety and quality”.

It also revealed that one in 10 Victorian building surveyors over the past five years had been hauled before a disciplinary panel for poor practise and were “over-­represented” in findings of misconduct. “Despite the critical role that building surveyors play in monitoring and enforcing building standards, they are over-­represented in disciplinary inquiries, registration suspensions and cancellations and reoffending,” it found.

“This is concerning given their status within the building control system as gatekeepers of safety and quality.”

The report comes after last year’s potentially deadly fire at the Lacrosse complex at Docklands high-density apartment precinct that revealed the use of flammable building material and widespread industry concern about poor compliance practises among private building surveyors.

The surveyors of the Lacrosse tower, the Gardner Group, signed off on the apartment complex as suitable for occupancy despite the improper use by the builder of highly flammable, cheap aluminium cladding.

The Auditor-General’s report found the building regulator, the Victorian Building Authority, was “deficient” in its oversight and monitoring of surveyors and could not provide assurances that “domestic building construction complies with minimum standards”.

It said there was a long-recognised conflict of interest within the surveying industry whereby the surveyor’s statutory obligation to ensure building safety conflicted with their business interest to receive more work from a builder.

It said there had been “little improvement” in the oversight of building surveyors by the VBA and the lack of regulatory oversight placed consumers and the public at risk. “The independence of compliance monitoring by surveyors is weakened by a long-­recognised conflict of interest for private building surveyors which undermines confidence in the system,” it says.

It also said the government body that registered and disciplined surveyors, the Building Practitioners Board, could not ensure practitioners were “qualified, competent and of good character”.

Chief executive of the Australian Institute of Building Surveyors Brett Mace welcomed the report. “AIBS has been advocating for more than 10 years to raise the bar on competency and ethical conduct for building surveyors,” he said.

In a statement, the VBA said it had made significant efforts to beef up it’s regulatory role and compliance oversight. “Whilst the report acknowledges the progress made by the VBA, it also makes useful recommendations on ­actions we can undertake to provide greater confidence,” it said.


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