From mushrooms sprouting from mouldy floors, to tradies cutting corners and “mates” certifying buildings, experts say systemic problems are plaguing the building industry, and our homes.
And while Sydney’s Opal Tower debacle thrust them into the spotlight and put further pressure on governments to act, they say issues have been going on for decades.
A report last year revealed huge problems in the construction industry. It took three months for the government to release the report, a further several months for senior officers to meet about it and only next month are they gathering again to see where progress — if any — is at.
Co-author of the Shergold and Weir report Building Confidence, Bronwyn Weir, said when she read about the Opal Tower she “was not surprised”.
“We were looking at systems used across the country and whether they’re adequate,” Ms Weir said.
“There were systemic issues. Without knowing the findings and the reason behind (the Opal Tower problem), it seems to me this is another symptoms of a bigger problem.”
Opal Tower residents were forced to evacuate on Christmas Eve after the building in Sydney’s Olympic Park started cracking, and again four days later so an investigation could be carried out.
Now more than two weeks later, those in unaffected units will be able to move back in this weekend, despite the exact cause of the problem being unknown and the NSW government’s report into the building yet to be finalised.
The debacle has led to more worried residents in other troublesome buildings coming out of the woodwork, tradies revealing the shocking work they have witnessed in the industry, and experts lashing out on inaction addressing concerns.
Last month experts warned the crumbling tower was part of a larger plague of dangerous “monstrosities” and “sick-building syndrome” causing issues all around Australia.
One surveying consultant who did not want to be named told news.com.au he had nearly been brought to tears attending jobs across the city.
“I’ve had mothers with children, babes in their arms, who have almost made my cry because they’ve had mushrooms growing in the floor (from waterproofing issues),” he said.
“They had no one, nowhere to go. It’s going on all the time.
“Basically people are living in dangerous buildings, they are unsafe.”
The consultant with 47 years’ experience in the industry said there needed to be industry-wide accountability of all practitioners in the supply chain because dodgy players were getting away with too much.
PROBLEM HIGH-RISE SECTOR
Ms Weir told news.com.au there was “very little oversight” of the high-rise sector.
“Anybody can build a large building and not be concerned a regulator will come on site,” she said.
“This industry has gone on without good oversight for decades.”
Ms Weir said she did not believe any state had acted on her report yet, and even NSW’s moves to address private certification issues had fallen short.
She said there had “been a lot of thinking” so far and lines were still blurred around addressing conflicts of interests — where builders chose mates or people they had worked with before to certify work.
“I don’t think any state really deals with that as effectively as they should,” she said.
Ms Weir said one of the major conflicts was when surveyors were involved in the design process because they were supposed to be independent and shouldn’t give advice along the way.
She said this was even a problem when the surveyor who would ultimately approve the work appointed the engineer for the design team, because other relationships could be at play.
“They need to be held account,” she said.
It comes after a recent report from the NSW government warned there were community concerns about private certifiers being unduly influenced by the builders and developers they work for, given the certifier is being paid by the same party they are supposed to independently oversee.
The report called for a national code of conduct so legislation could not be misinterpreted state by state, with what existed “not comprehensive or sufficient enough”.
Tradies have told news.com.au they often see corners being cut on job sites to secure work or because “mates rates” were at play.
A builder said certifiers and builders did not want to upset each other and if they had created a trusted relationship everything became “too easy”.
“There’s a real contrast between what we’re told and what’s going on (in the industry) because no one is policing it,” he said.
“There’s processes along the line that aren’t being done properly.
“No one is accountable or even cares, they just want their pay check and unfortunately that’s the way it’s gone. I’d be nervous being in a building like (the Opal Tower).”
He said people were able to keep getting their licences renewed without further training or education.
Federal Minister for Industry Karen Andrews will meet with state building ministers on February 8 to make sure recommendations are being implemented and there is a nationally consistent approach across the industry Australia-wide.
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