The construction crisis isn't just a Sydney problem. How bad could it be in your state?


August 18, 2019 05:06:14

667,000 apartments in 18 years. What could go wrong?

For the past two decades, Australia has been in an apartment building boom.

Governments have got out of the way, removing red tape and introducing private certification for an industry that’s worth more than $141 billion*.

But when Sydney’s Opal and Mascot Towers were evacuated because of structural cracking, the issue of defective high-rises was laid bare.

Experts have told Four Corners that the problem stretches across the country and many apartments built in the last 20 years are likely to contain some kind of defect.

So how bad could the problem be in your state?

There have been 667,394 apartments, flats or units built nationwide from the end of 2000 up until March this year, according to data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

A study by Deakin and Griffith universities also surveyed buildings in Australia’s east coast states and found more than 70 per cent had at least one defect. All were built after 2003.

The Griffith-Deakin study’s co-author, Dr Nicole Johnston, told Four Corners high-rise defects were a problem in every state and territory.

“It’s systemic and it’s infecting lots of buildings across the landscape, in all parts of the country. It’s very clear and it’s very prominent, and we’ve got a serious problem here,” she said.

“I think it’s irresponsible for any government to pretend like this is not happening in their state.”

New South Wales

There have been 259,580 new apartments built in NSW since 2000, according to the ABS figures.

Ninety-seven per cent of buildings in New South Wales surveyed in the Griffith-Deakin study had at least one defect in multiple locations. The study looked at buildings built between 2003 and 2018.

The study found that the most common type of defect was waterproofing, followed by fire safety systems.


There have been 174,896 new apartments built in Victoria since 2000, according to the ABS.

The Griffith-Deakin study looked at buildings built there between 2008 and 2017 and found that 74 per cent had defects.


There have been 143,704 new apartments built in Queensland since 2000.

The Griffith-Deakin study looked at a selection of buildings built between 2008 and 2017 in Queensland and found that 71 per cent had defects.

Dr Johnston said when defects were found, they were generally a chronic problem across a building.

“It’s not isolated to one type or one part of the building. It’s across multiple areas in relation to how the building is being constructed,” she said.

Western Australia

There have been 39,680 new apartments built in Western Australia since 2000.

The CEO of the Property Council of Australia, Ken Morrison, is not surprised that so many apartment buildings around the country are likely to have defects.

“When you’re doing something very complicated like building a high-rise apartment building, there are going to be things which need to get fixed up,” he said.

South Australia, Tasmania, ACT

There have been 14,418 new apartments built in South Australia since 2000.

In Tasmania there have been 1,849.

And in the ACT there have been 26,116.

Northern Territory

In the Northern Territory there have been 7,150 new apartments built since 2000.

A structural engineer, John Scott, is facing a building inquiry after nine buildings in Darwin and Palmerston were found to not comply with national construction standards.

Right now, there are plans to build close to 140,000 more apartments around the country.

There is no guarantee these new developments will be built under the stricter regulations recommended in a report by lawyer Bronwyn Weir and former senior public servant Peter Shergold, commissioned by Australian state and federal building ministers.

The report’s 24 recommendations included a crackdown on private certification, and registration of everyone involved in the building process.

At a meeting in July, building ministers committed to implementing the reforms.

Ms Weir warns the recommendations will do nothing to fix potential problems in the 667,394 apartments built in the last two decades.

“There’s a lot of existing building stock that has defects in it,” she said.

“There’ll be legacy issues for some time, and I suspect there’ll be legacy issues that we’re not even fully aware of yet.”

Watch Sean Nicholls’ investigation into the building sector, Cracking Up, on Monday on Four Corners at 8.30pm on ABC TV and iview.

More on the data

  • The dwellings counted in the ABS figures include what the ABS calls flats, units or apartments, including those attached to a house.

*The Office for the Minister for Industry Science and Technology says Australia’s residential and non-residential construction industry is worth $141 billion.


Reporter: Sean Nicholls

Digital Producer: Brigid Andersen

Designer: Georgina Piper

Developer: Nathanael Scott



















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