Government defends building regulation after new revelations about Elara Apartments
Dodgy construction work will always be the responsibility of the construction sector and not government, the ACT’s Building Quality Minister has said after further revelations about the construction of one of Canberra’s most troubled unit blocks.
- Four Corners reveals the Elara Apartments’ acclaimed architect left the project before construction began
- The ACT Government says at the end of the day the construction industry is solely responsible for shonky work
- The ACT’s Building Quality Minister is considering introducing an Australia-first licencing scheme for developers
Yesterday Four Corners suggested the Elara Apartments in Canberra’s north appeared to have been built under a so-called “design and construct model”, where a well-known architect was enlisted in order for the development to be approved, but removed from the project prior to construction beginning.
After some apartments in the Elara project were sold off the plan, the development’s B&T Constructions and its director Ivan Bulum removed an acclaimed architecture firm from the project.
Building defects consultant Ross Taylor told the program it was a common tactic used by developers to have their projects approved, but save money during the construction phase.
“The process of these defects being generated starts right at the beginning with the developer,” he said.
“The builder, who has no training in design, [then] takes responsibility for the design done to date and completing the last half of the detail.”
But Mr Taylor said, because the builder was operating on a tight budget, subcontractors were frequently asked to finish the designs “the way they see fit”.
He said that would sometimes lead to tradespeople finishing the design while on the job.
The owners of Elara Apartments are still fighting legal battles to recoup their diminished investments, appealing a Federal Court decision that denied them access to compensation through a fund set up to compensate owners whose builders were insolvent.
Responding to the Four Corners report, ACT Building Quality Minister Gordon Ramsay said the Government should not shoulder responsibility for allowing poor work to be carried out in the first place.
“The responsibility in the building industry, for the quality of building, must always rest with the builder,” he said.
“That’s the reality of the way that it works.”
Mr Ramsay said it was apparent many apartment blocks across Canberra had issues with defects.
“I think it is clear that there have been some builders who have been operating in the ACT and around Australia who are not building to the right level of quality,” he said.
“There are some times where there has been action that has been taken either by people in the industry, or by building surveyors, that have not been of sufficient quality.
“We are certainly determined, we are following through on a range of reforms in that area, to make sure that as we move forward from here the building that does happen, the certification that does happen, the tradesmanship that does happen, is all of high quality.”
Government considering developer licencing in nation first
Last year it emerged the Government was well behind its own deadlines for introducing a suite of changes designed to overhaul the Canberra construction industry.
But Mr Ramsay said the Government was hard at work to ensure standards were lifted in the sector.
Owners at the Elara complex have been chasing compensation in the Federal Court. (ABC News: James Fettes)
The Government plans to introduce mandatory education and testing for those seeking registration as a building certifier, and Mr Ramsay said a professional code of practice had also been introduced.
“That now requires them to operate at best practice, not at the lowest minimum that you saw sometimes in the Four Corners report last night,” he said.
Mr Ramsay said an industry code of practice was also being developed for the building industry, and the Government was exploring the possibility of licencing developers — which would be an Australian first.
The Government also wants those purchasing units off the plan to take more control during the construction process.
It recently announced plans to force developers to notify buyers of major changes to development proposals made during construction but after a sale, allowing buyers to terminate a contract where the final product significantly differed from what they had agreed to purchase.
The Government also wants to hand more power to individual owners through owners corporations — limiting the ability for developers to vote on matters relating to building defects.
Federal Government has role to play, ACT Government says
But Mr Ramsay said the Federal Government had the most important role to play in cracking down on developers leaving apartment owners high and dry after building defects emerged.
The ACT Government already has the power to strip builders of their licence in order to prevent them building more properties in the ACT.
It has already done so in the Elara case, but could not prevent the builder from re-entering the industry as a developer — launching projects, and contracting the construction out to others.
Despite that, the ACT Government argued it was largely powerless to tackle one of the biggest problems owners face when chasing builders and developers over defects — companies folding, and re-emerging under a different name.
“Phoenixing is something that has to be done at a federal level,” Mr Ramsay said.
“I, as the ACT Government and a number of state and territory governments have done, call on the Federal Government to act really quickly as a matter of absolute priority.”
But opposition planning spokesman Mark Parton said Mr Ramsay should accept responsibility, on behalf of the Government, for the situation in the ACT’s apartment construction industry.
“Is the Government partly responsible? The answer is yes,” he said.
Mr Parton said if he were building quality minister, he would be willing to accept that responsibility himself.
“If I was in government, I believe I would,” he said.
“There has been a lack of compliance.”