Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1998 Week 8 Hansard (29 October) . . Page.. 2511 ..
MR HARGREAVES (continuing):
Mr Speaker, I know that in many government services collusion is found to occur, and often poor service results. But when it is found, the action which ensues is heavy. The community calls for blood and usually gets it. I do have a worry that where the interests of public safety are involved and government inspection has no role the opportunity for collusion is heightened, and the quality of certification and its reputation for being that one step removed are reduced.
A further problem is forum shopping. I know that this exists with solicitors, doctors and other professionals, but that does not excuse it. I quote a concern from one group which contacted me:
... with the introduction of private certification, there is a risk that hidden influence could be exerted on certifiers by unscrupulous developers with a consequent detriment to the community.
Basically, this means that where certifiers are too tough they will not be hired by developers or builders, and those whose standards are marginal will be. The result? Poor-quality product.
Mr Speaker, we have heard concerns expressed by the scrutiny of Bills and subordinate legislation committee. These concerns, I believe, are valid ones and ones which I am not sure can be addressed by amendment. I note the Government's response to the committee's concerns and I thank the Minister for providing that response before debate was brought on, but I am not satisfied that the Government's response was an adequate one.
In the proposed legislation, much power is given to the chief executive, who "may" do something. On the other hand, he may not. For example, in the Construction Practitioners Registration Bill, clause 11(5), relating to a request for access to information about who is on the register, says that the chief executive "may" grant access. This small example is only one of many where the action of the chief executive is discretionary. In most cases this power is non-reviewable. It is odd that we are taking away the power of a government inspector and making him an auditor, yet conferring on the chief executive rather more power than appears warranted. Further, much is often made of industry's code of ethics. This legislation does not require such a code. Clause 12 of the Construction Practitioners Registration Bill says that the chief executive "may cause to be prepared and published" a code of ethics. Again this word "may".
Mr Speaker, when I was thinking of supporting the legislation and before the end of my current round of consultations, I noticed that there was no requirement for the auditors to be qualified in the same way as the certifiers. I entertained the idea of proposing an amendment to change clause 15(3) to include after subsection (2) the words "and holding qualifications as set out in regulation". This would have had the effect of requiring the qualifications to be listed in a disallowable instrument. I am grateful for the assistance of departmental officers in framing those words and I am grateful for the assistance of officers from Mr Smyth's office in concurring with the spirit behind that change. I would hope that if this legislation does get up the Minister folds those words in.