'Biggest shake-up in building laws in our state's history' follows Opal Tower debacle
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'Biggest shake-up in building laws in our state's history' follows Opal Tower debacle

A “Building Commissioner” will have responsibility for auditing people who work in the industry, the NSW government says in its long-awaited response to a major review of regulation of the building and construction sector.

The government will also tighten protections for homeowners and owners’ corporations, to help ensure they receive compensation if builders or engineers have been negligent.

In the wake of the Opal Tower debacle, in which design and construction failures contributed to faults in the 36-storey building, NSW Fair Trading Minister Matt Kean on Sunday released the government’s response to a national report into compliance and enforcement in the building industry.

Tradesmen working on the Opal Tower at Sydney Olympic Park

Tradesmen working on the Opal Tower at Sydney Olympic ParkCredit:Dominic Lorrimer

Mr Kean described the response as the “biggest shake-up in building and construction laws in our state's history.”

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“When you purchase a property in NSW, you have every right to expect that that property is safe, structurally sound, and free from major defects. And unfortunately that is not always the case,” he said.

Mr Kean said the government would accept the “vast majority” of recommendations in a report written by Chancellor of Western Sydney University Peter Shergold and lawyer Bronwyn Weir.

The report was commissioned by the Building Ministers’ Forum, a collection of state and territory ministers, in August 2017 and completed in February 2018.

Professor Shergold and Ms Weir concluded that the “nature and extent of the problems put to us are significant and concerning'.

“They are likely to undermine public trust in the health and safety of buildings if they are not addressed in a comprehensive manner,” the report said.

To that end, among 24 recommendations, the report called for each state or territory to implement registration schemes for all involved in the industry – builders, surveyors, architects, engineers, designers, and inspectors – and implement mechanisms for training and licensing.

Mr Kean said that under his proposed laws “people who do work in the building and construction industry” will have “to take responsibility for their work''.

That would mean “requiring designers to sign off on their designs, and builders to build their buildings in line with those designs''.

The commissioner would have responsibility for enforcing the licensing scheme.

Minister for Better Regulation Matt Kean.

Minister for Better Regulation Matt Kean. Credit:James Alcock

The executive director of the Master Builders Association NSW, Brian Seidler, welcomed the proposed changes.

“From the building industry's perspective this is a very important and very good set of reforms,” Mr Seidler said.

“What it does is it introduces responsibility to the total chain, from those who design our buildings to those who complete and build our buildings.”

Mr Kean has not yet specified which of Professor Shergold and Ms Weir’s recommendations the government would not implement. In a release he said it would be continuing consultations with industry and homeowners “to make sure we get the best results for home owners.”

The government has introduced measures to give builders less control over the certifiers vouching for their work, and last year introduced a bond defects scheme to make it easier for strata homeowners to rectify defective building work.

Jacob Saulwick is City Editor at The Sydney Morning Herald.

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