Page 903 - Week 03 - Thursday, 30 March 2006

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Overall, the Construction Occupations Legislation Act as it stands and its many amendments—and I am sure there are more to come—point to a hastily prepared piece of legislation. The failure of government to hear the voice of industry in the first place makes one wonder what motivation lay behind this hurried and seemingly piecemeal approach to what could have been a streamlining of the licensing process. That is why we are dealing with some of these amendments now. The rationale behind this hurried approach might be found in the minister’s tabling speech of 24 June 2003. I quote:

Mr Speaker, it is symbolic that this significant legislative reform will have a community consultation phase commencing on 1 July 2003, the commencement date for the new ACT Planning and Land Authority. This sends a strong message to the community that this government’s commitment to high-quality, sustainable development is not merely a set of words in a policy document but a policy that permeates all levels of the building and construction industry.

The commencement of a public consultation phase might have suggested that to be true but it appears that this has not become a reality. One industry body mentioned to me that this consultation process was limited, that not enough time was given, that the government had decided on a course of action and public consultation was a process in name only, whilst this hotchpotch of hurriedly produced legislation was full of cracks and change was not going to be countenanced, according to some industry groups. In Mr Corbell’s speech of 20 November 2003 he gave an indication that this was certainly the attitude of government. I quote again:

On balance, Mr Deputy Speaker, the government’s assessment was that those industry concerns that were not addressed do not argue against the legislation going ahead. We consider that it is important to move forward now in partnership with industry.

As a result, we had the inevitable promise of a requirement “to review the operation of the scheme two years after its commencement”. It seems to me that the overall thrust of providing a clear legislative basis for licensing the trades is important. Unfortunately, I think it was put forward hurriedly and as such this has led to a continuing stream of adjusting amendments to the legislation to patch up failings of the original act.

I cannot help but wonder what it is like for the industry to deal with such a moving target, let alone the statutory body trying to administer it. The act was intended to introduce a single licensing system for the construction occupations, which has enormous benefits, including streamlining results and a better customer service to our licensees. This is a motherhood statement and I guess the proof is in the pudding. The key to making this happen, of course, is backing up the legislation. The legislation provides for the creation of a more flexible and effective means of disciplinary action against delinquent licence holders. It also provides for speedy action against unlicensed persons found to be doing work requiring a licence. This intention is sound.

In reality, though, I understand that there is a plethora of unlicensed persons in the industry—particularly, I am told, in the rental property area. According to some industry groups, handymen who are not licensed to undertake specialised maintenance are working openly and in large numbers. Legislation, even with some deficiencies, provides a basis for action but if the legislation is not followed through with action it is virtually

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