Regulation: it’s all in the terminology

As with everything in Australia, the issue isn’t Federation, the issue isn’t the role of State and Territories – the issue is language. A land of six sovereign States and two Territories – Australians are a people only separated by a common language.

To hold anyone accountable for anything, it would be good if we used the same term throughout the country to describe that individual.

In Victoria there are no Trade Contractor’s, that is a licence is not granted to contract to the public as a Carpenter, Bricklayer or electrician but rather a Restricted Builders Licence (restricted to a particular licence – in either the commercial or domestic sectors of the industry).

From South Australian definitions to New South Wales regulators

In South Australia Building Surveyors have a statutory responsibility to satisfy themselves that an Engineer’s calculations have been properly carried out, noting this no statutory definition as to what an Engineer is, or in what disciplines an Engineer may operate. Nor is there a license for any of the ‘architectural trades’ (i.e. those other than plumbing, drainage, gas fitting, electrical and mechanical.

New South Wales uniquely has two regulators – one strategic, one tactical – the Departments of 1. Planning and 2. Finance Services and Innovation. There is no Department of Building, no building commission.

The Building Regulation Advisory Council (BRAC) belongs to Planning. The Property Services Advisor Council (PSAC) belongs to Finance Services and Innovation.

Within the NSW Department of Finance, Services and Innovation is the Division of Better Regulation (still commonly known as Fair Trading) – within this division is: a. the NSW Building Professionals Board (which regulates Certifiers); b. Builder and Trade Contractor Licensing; c. Safework NSW; and the Board of Architects (which with its minuscule workforce is trying to be reabsorbed back into the Department of  Finance Services and Innovation, so as to have equal standing with the entire Division of Better Regulation).

Queensland licensing categories to the lack of mandatory licensing in WA

In Queensland they have a separate Building Designers Licence in the Low Rise, Medium Rise and Open Licence categories – incidentally these three levels of licence are reflected in the licencing regimes of the ACT and Tasmania (which somehow got by with no licencing to the industry what so ever literally for 200 years until 2004) – the Queensland Open Building Designer can ‘Contract Manage and Design’ all classes of building of all sizes and height, with just a three year degree in building design (or the first degree in an Architecture program) and two years appropriate industry experience. There is no such clear cut definition as to what ‘architectural services’ actually are under the various State and Territory Architecture Acts. In Queensland the Building Designers are regulated by the Queensland Building and Construction Commission, whilst the architects come under the Board of Architects Queensland. Outside of Queensland, and NSW (only for residential works over three storeys) anyone can do ‘the work of an architect’, but if you call yourself one, no matter how qualified, and you are not registered expect a pretty hefty fine.

In Western Australia there are no mandatory building inspections, and in spite of being the first State to introduce Builders Licensing (in the 1930s)- licensing doesn’t apply for much of the State, because it is a desert I guess – but for some reason the license for a painter applies over an even  smaller area.

Engineers are only compulsory licensed to practice in Queensland and now Victoria – that isn’t as bad as it seems because there are no bachelor degrees in structural engineering, only civil. And a good number of these don’t COMPULSORY cover reinforced concrete or structural steel design, let alone anything to do with the building fabric, NCC Compliance or such mundane things as to how to pitch a roof or how to design formwork – but I too am a man of faith, I like to believe that somehow they learn what the rest of us expect of an engineer.

In conclusion it would be nice if each State and Territory could at least ensure we use the same set of definitions to describe each occupation – so industry and the public can have the same expectations across the country.

That would be a start to ensure compliance, at least then we would know who to hold accountable and who not to. It would be just a start.

About the Author: Robert Whittaker AM FRSN FAIB

  • CompIEAust  FAIQS  MAIBS  NBPR-1
  • Chair – National Building Professionals Register – NBPR
  • Deputy Chair – Centre for Best Practice Building Control – CBPBC
  • Past National President of the Australian Institute of Building

Chartered (NBPR-1, Construction/Project Management) and Licensed (ACT Class A) Builder;

Chartered (NBPR-1, Building Control) Building Certifier and Licensed Principal (ACT) Surveyor;

Chartered Building Economist (NBPR-1, Building Economics) and Accredited (AIQS) Quantity Surveyor.

Conjoint Professor of Practice (ConstMan) – Faculty of Engineering and the Built Environment – University of Newcastle

Adjunct Professor (ConstMan) – Faculty of Arts and Design (formerly with the Faculty of Business Government and Law) – University of Canberra

Adjunct Associate Professor (ConstMan, BldSurv, QtySurv) – School of Computing Mathematics and Engineering – Western Sydney University