Building Oversight Failures

Hi Karen, It is truly amazing that this can happen. I keep asking, where are the watchdogs? Why are these organisations (Victorian Building Authority here) allowing these shonkies to stay licensed? It seems so simple, doesn’t it?

As for the law, I have long believed the law protects the guilty, not the innocent. Your case is merely further proof of that.


Lack of protection against dodgy renovators/home builders is one the biggest consumer protection shortfalls out there at the moment. It may even come in second place after lack of protection against dodgy financial advisers/insurance salespeople. I humbly offer these links to a couple of our stories on the issue, which may help inform the discussion.


Hi Andy,
I have read your 2014 article and am extremely disappointed to realise that nothing much has changed. Almost everything you wrote applies to our case. The rebadged Victorian Building Authority and Builder’s Disciplinary Board have also failed dismally so now the BPB is about to be dissolved. There have been some positive changes, however, such as builders no longer able to choose the Building Surveyor. Hopefully shonky builders won’t be able to work with their favoured shonky Building Surveyors any more. I believe the Ombudsman is again looking into the role of the VBA.

In my opinion, it all fails because the VBA sees itself as the mentor/advisor to builders, not their watchdog. The words of a very senior VBA official were along the lines of, ‘We should send the builder a letter, reminding him of his responsibilities.’ Really??? Perhaps they should send a letter saying, ‘Clean up your act or you won’t have a licence. And we will be doing random, unannounced audits of your sites.’ Then we might have better builders and more protection for the consumer. I think penalties should be actioned for non-compliance after one warning, and should be sufficiently severe to get them to change their business practices. Other organisations such as the HIA or Master Builders can be their friend and advise them of their obligations and best business practices. The VBA should have the relevant legislation and standards guides available for builders to source. They should be pro-active and visit sites unannounced to check compliance with the building legislations. The VBA should be the enforcer.

And just to add a personal experience with the VBA.
We engaged a so-called ‘independent inspector’ from the VBA. The appointed inspector contacted the builder several times and got all the documents (apart from the ones sent in with the inspection application ) from the builder, including documents we had never seen and non-contract documents. Although we were the ones requesting the inspection, he did not contact us at all about anything. The first contact with us was on site at the inspection.

He went to the site with no measuring equipment except a spirit level, despite this being a dispute about levels. So without checking, this clever inspector came to the conclusion that the slab wasn’t too low, the ground was too high. (I’m not kidding!) And in reference to the other issue of drainage, his conclusion was that if you made this change, there would be no need for any changes. We paid hundreds of dollars for this inspection.

A total waste of tax-payer dollars was having two VBA lawyers spend several hours at VCAT, trying to stop the inspector taking the witness stand, whilst admitting they knew, that under the legislation, an inspector MUST testify if requested by either party of the dispute (and both had). A futile and costly exercise.

Seems to me that everyone knows how corrupt the building industry is and that the watchdogs are failing. But who is watching the watchdogs? Whose job is it to fix them?


This story from the ACT caused me to revisit this as a topic.

Locally there was a major fail leading to a class action against the VBA.

Only the property owners seem to be out of pocket and have to bear the consequences while the guilty get a light rap on the knuckles or less, in comparison.


…following on, it seems people can be more concerned about their property value than for their property and willingly keep their heads down.


On it goes. The way owners are left to their own devices and builders are protected by so-called oversights, ability to hire their own surveyors to approve their work in some jurisdictions, and bankruptcy/administration laws and so forth, just goes on in more ways than many of us could imagine.

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This topic raises many new concerns.

Consumers are vulnerable when it comes to all trade skills based work. It is largely due to our lack of understanding and knowledge required to do such work, IE ‘Ignorance’.
We rely on diligent application of trade skills, application of statutory codes and use of standards by others. This continues through to professional and management skills associated with the work including design and quality.

When these fail should our ignorance as consumers hold us to account for the failings of others?

We need ‘assurance’ - the cost of ensuring it is done right first time,
Not ‘insurance’ which is the cost of accepting risks you do not control.

Self regulation and user pays are just a poor excuse that provides neither.


Another episode of Victoria’s ‘protection’ against dodgy developers and workman who continue to be allowed to self-police, apparently without much if any real recourse from the ‘victims’. Neither Tweedledee nor Tweedledum have been willing to step up to the problem. Any further comments I could make would go well into political territory, so other than noting none of the responsible or potentially responsible pollies have any shame in this matter I’ll leave it.


I’m not lost for words.

It is political. Choice as a consumer organisation has moved many mountains for consumers. Some changes have come about through campaigns for legislative changes for better consumer protection. Also through Choice stepping up where regulators are falling short in providing consumer support.

Choice coming from a small base has had a focus on everyday consumer items/issues progressively stretching to consumer education and support for services from credit cards to insurance and electricity costs.

At the big end of the economy is the building construction and related industries. There is also the motor retail, servicing and after market industries. Both of these sectors have ten to one hundred times the turn over over of the G Hervey’s In Australia. Who would you prefer to take on in court: Sony or Stockland, Myer or Toyota?

Without using poorly chosen words in judging the values of our political parties, it remains a serious question for our parliaments which interests they have choosen to protect in this example from Victoria?

And to ask if there is any prospect of Choice taking one more consumer step towards challenging the status quo in these two sectors? Choice should at least have a seat at every advisory or regulatory board or body to represent the interests of consumers in these areas is my first though?

Once upon a time there were council building inspectors who served the community faithfully if a little zealously for some. Now there are none?


Re the problems at Opal Tower it could get even more interesting. Although the developer and builder are still front and centre (could they even try to hide in this case?) it appears once again self regulation and certifications for hire might bite.


This event may look even more challenging for owner occupiers and investors when they look towards insurance and compensation.

Some building construction risks may sit outside what you can reasonably insure for. If the party you alternately seek to sue has no means and the professional liability and indemnity insurance is not accessible, what then is the likely outcome?

One option is the body corporate (IE all the owners) will have to dig deep into their own pockets to a pay for any remedy? That will include those owners whose units are not affected in equal (entitlement based) share with those who are?

Ouch! :angry::angry::angry:

Hopefully the actions of the NSW Govt to appoint two independent experts to report will help move to a speedy resolution.


Once again a government raises its head to do as little as possible while spinning it as momentous. The highlights are contained in

and look at what can happen to those misguided dodgy certifiers. Any mention on protecting the innocent bystanders? Nada, not yet. Looks much like business as usual at the end of the day with ‘us’ at the mercy of the developers/builders where some might lose their jobs for a few months.

Note if the report is right on a dodgy certifier can be banned from working on strata developments for a whole year. How serious a punishment is that?! The NSW government is reaffirming the pub test needs to be renamed the loo test as the stench has nothing more than a bit of pot pourri to treat it. While meanwhile in Victoria government continues to hum in its ears.

Governments and consumer protection in building oversight at their finest :roll_eyes:


Dodgy certifiers or a knee jerk political expediency that might miss the trarget?

Firstly no one has yet provided a definitive report as to what has failed, how it failed, why it failed or the root causes behind the failure/s.

Secondly, not all certifiers are dodgy!

Thirdly the failure may not relate to how the certifiers performed on this project, even if they are considered to be unreliable on past performance?

Perhaps the root cause once the investigations are complete lies with government. The need to have in place adequate independent regulatory bodies that have the resources and legal ability to act is fundamental.

A major structural failure of a multi story building is at best a financial disaster. Worse if there are lives at risk.

For the residential high rise construction industry, many of the developers, main contractors and larger sub-contractors are concerned with short term gain. Companies and trust structures can move millions, limit personal liability and operations Phoenix.

Perhaps the community needs to put more stringent constraints on how these businesses operate and on whom can own, manage and control any business involved in high rise construction.

Firstly to ensure there are responsible and publically accountable individuals in all roles that gain financially from the business.

Secondly to ensure that only regulated business that can meet management and operational standards are accepted into the industry. By this I don’t mean a ‘Builder’s Gold Card’ as per Qld legislation. That is too trivial and weak in it’s application in my view for a high risk building.

Thirdly to provide penalties for failure to comply that apply to the individuals responsible for the business that are proportionate. Eg If the repairs to a building through a deliberate act or omission come to tens of millions of dollars. How does that compare to the crime of theft or embezzlement of a similar amount? Jail time and years to serve. A 12 month suspension as suggested by the NSW Govt from work as a certifier for a breech seems trivial as a penalty?

A high rise residential building has the same level of risk as a major high level bridge over Sydney Harbour. These buildings require the same degree of professional respect!

Ouch! :face_with_head_bandage: was that a book? Better luck on the next job! :money_mouth_face:


The second from the last paragraph is telling. The NSW premier apparently does not believe oversight of builders is any business of government. The premier also indicated the residents should use all of their legal avenues, as she would, on their own by themselves to sue corporates that could stall for years or bankrupt in a heartbeat leaving the residents with nothing,

One has to wonder if this would be different if NSW (and the other states) took responsibility for assuring buildings were properly constructed rather than letting independently hired for-profit and thus compromised surveyors and certifiers sign off on so-called quality construction.

Whether the headline in the following is right on or sensationalist, the government response is an appalling abdication of what government is expected to do, as I see it. Yet in NSW this might not be enough of an election issue to change the welded on voters, and the opposition attitude may be no different.


It will be interesting to see the results of the Opal Tower investigations.

The main concern I have and from experience in Queensland, many certifiers are cautious to raise major problems as their reputation drive future work in the industry. If a certifier is seen to be difficult to work with (including raising concerns over building work or design which would lead to cost or time blowouts), it is likely that they will obtain a reputation and be less likely to gain future work from the same builders/developers (and other who also hear of the certifier’s ‘reputation’). These particular certifiers are actually the ones the consumer wants as they would be always acting in accordance with the consumer interests. Unfortunately, these certifiers are the ones the industry tried to weed out.

Possibly a way to overcome this would be for the certifiers to be on a government panel of providers to which a builder/developer requests a certifier to be nominated/provided by the government from this panel for the proposed building/construction work. The builder/certifier would have no say in the process of the selection of the certifier.

This would reduce the likelihood of builder/developer and certifier love-ins and ensure that the certifiers remain independent and impartial.The certifier would remain on the panel until such time the certifier chooses to leave or it there is proven misconduct in relation to the certifier.

There could also be a process of dispute resolution when say a builder/certifier disagrees with a certifier decision.

Simple solution which maintains government separation from the day to day certification of building/construction work, but ensure the integrity of the certification process.


A well reasoned response, that, and a good suggested solution, but why is a solution that

important as compared to government directly employing the surveyor/certifiers?


I always think is it best for government to employ such certifiers or have them private and have mixed thoughts…but generally tilt in favour or private certifiers.

One of the advantages of private certifiers is the supply is driven by demand. In government, they possibly would either have enough cerifiers to meet peak demand (meaning that there will certifiers idle when building activity is in a trough imposing additional cost on the taxpayer) or just enough certifiers to meet minimum activity (meaning that there would be delays for certification when there are not enough certifiers to meet the demand imposting additional costs on the consumer/buyers)…or somewhere in between

Maybe another advantage is that private certifiers will possible be more abreast of emerging technologies and trends, where government certifiers are likely to be more conservative in such regard.


Would this include mandatory professional indemnity insurance to cover the potential costs of liability should they get it wrong? Not that I would be happy for government to have that liability but as you wrote,

and thus less likely to go with less proven or less rigorous construction. Newest is not always best :wink:


This is the key, it needs to be proven to be certified. New technologies which change regularly, provide a range of benefits such as higher efficiencies, lower costs, higher strengths etc. They aren’t all negatives.


How is that done? I prefer a lot of over engineering in my (if I lived in one) 100 floor tower rather than the most cost effective minimum that was used on a handful of previous (or possibly no other) buildings.

A war story perhaps, but. In the 1970’s I worked for a computer vendor who sold the mightiest machines on earth. They upgraded a customer to a unique high end model that was supposed to be exactly compatible with the next down they were using. The engineering analysis was Very Different. Heads got concerned, the numerical analysts and software engineers and construction engineers all got involved to understand why the answers were divergent from the previous machine. It was discovered that now the answers were correct, and they had been in serious error for years! The company built bridges. And so goes certification. OK, lots was learnt and the situation may have never been repeated. I do not know the lifespans of any of those bridges.