NSW engineer registration FAQ

It’s time for the NSW Government to recognise the value of our profession.

The NSW Act provides for registration to apply to professional engineers practising in the areas of structural, civil, mechanical, electrical, and fire safety engineering, as well as any other areas that are prescribed by regulations, across all industries, not just the building industry. Current indicators are that the NSW Government will however restrict its application to the building sector, and initially only for work on Class 2 apartments.

Why registration matters

To secure public confidence in the engineering profession by implementing a government-run register of engineers.

The Queensland Government has had compulsory registration of engineers since 1929 and legislation passed Parliament in Victoria (in 2019) for the introduction of compulsory registration of engineers in that state. Engineers Australia is pleased that in June 2020, legislation passed NSW Parliament for the state to establish a compulsory registration scheme for engineers. This is a significant public policy reform which will benefit community safety and the engineering profession.

Engineers Australia strongly supports a nationally coordinated system. Professional bodies should be appointed to conduct assessments on individuals’ qualifications and experience. Registration should apply to anyone who provides professional engineering services, unless if working under the supervision of a registered engineer or are applying a prescriptive standard or design.

There are five key benefits of the compulsory registration system for engineers in NSW which is coming: industry and consumer information; reducing risks to public health, safety and welfare; professional recognition; enhanced international mobility and trade in engineering services; and, legislative efficiency.

More detail on those benefits are in Section 2 of the Engineers Australia document, Registration of Engineers: the case for statutory registration. It is available online, here.

Engineers Australia does not promote registration as being a ‘silver bullet’ to the problems which have arisen in the building sector in NSW, but it is a first step to creating a system to recognise competence and exclude those found not suitable to work as an engineer. Ultimately, this will reduce the likelihood of consumer detriment and community safety being put at risk going forward.

National Registration

The role of the regulator belongs to Government, which has the resources and legal power to conduct comprehensive investigations of registered engineers and their work in response to complaints. Engineers Australia is of the view that our National Engineering Register (NER) provides a good model for governments to adopt. Also, it is voluntary for engineers to be listed on the NER. The new NSW registration laws will make it compulsory for professional engineers in the fields of civil, structural, electrical, mechanical and fire safety engineering to be registered. Additional areas of engineering can be added in the future.

If the fees associated with the Registered Professional Engineer of Queensland (RPEQ) system are used as a guide, each jurisdiction could charge about $232 each year. If all eight states and territories introduce comprehensive registration requirements, the total bill for someone practicing in all jusridictions could reach about $1,856 each year.

More detail on the potential cost of registration is in Section 6 of the Engineers Australia document, Registration of Engineers: the case for statutory registration. It is available online, here.

The cost to become a registered engineer in NSW (and Victoria) is still to be determined by government, however Engineers Australia continues to work on ensuring these costs are kept to a minimum.

Feedback about compulsory registration of engineers was sought from all NSW-based members in July 2019, by email. Of those who responded, 91.5% expressed specific support for a registration scheme, just 3.4% expressed opposition.

In October 2019, Engineers Australia held a member consultation and information session in Newcastle, with about 50 people in the room and more than 300 live streaming by webinar. At this session there was a great deal of interest and a strong sentiment of support for a NSW scheme for registration of engineers.

In May 2020, the Government’s proposed reforms were explained in detail to a group of almost 400 members via an online event. Afterwards, a simple polling question was posed: Do you support the NSW Parliament’s proposal for registration of engineers? Of the 204 people who answered, 80% said “yes”. Only 2% said “no” and a further 17% were “unsure”. At that time, the widely held understanding of the Government’s commitment was to apply registration across all industries.

Engineers Australia is continuing to keep members informed as the specific details of the new laws to introduce compulsory registration of engineers in NSW are developed.

The NSW government expects to start public consultation on the draft Regulations to support the Design and Building Practitioners Act in November 2020.

We agree that new registration schemes should operate nationally and align with what is already in place in QLD and have common minimum standards. Engineers Australia is specifically working towards this in NSW (and in Victoria) through ongoing engagement with government.

It is Engineers Australia’s view that a professional body should be appointed to conduct assessments on individuals’ qualifications and experience to further avoid “red tape” (administrative burden). With each new state or territory that introduces registration, the  Mutual Recognition Act 1992 (which is adopted in all jurisdictions) applies to ensure recognition of registration status across borders.

Australia is a federation where the states and territories have responsibility for certain areas of government, including registration of professions. A federal system whereby registration is managed on a state-by-state basis, but with close alignment of standards and application of the Mutual Recognition Act, is achievable. 

In August 2020, the National Cabinet announced a plan to introduced an enhanced system for mutual recognition of occupational licences/registration across borders. Exact details are not yet public, but it is expected to provide for a system whereby a registered practitioner would only need to pay a registration fee once in their primary jurisdiction. 

On 13 November, the National Cabinet agreed in principle to establish an Intergovernmental Agreement on Automatic Mutual Recognition of Occupational Licences, with that agreement to be signed by the end of 2020 following further work by the Council of Federal Financial Relations. To give effect to this, draft legislation to amend the Commonwealth Mutual Recognition Act 1992 will be released by the end of 2020 to facilitate automatic mutual recognition commencing by 1 July 2021. 

The NER is already recognised as a pathway to recognition as an engineer in QLD. We advocate for it to be recognised with each new state that introduces a registration scheme, including in NSW.

The Building Sector

We believe registration is the first step of many towards solving the problems in the building sector in NSW, and endorse all recommendations outlined in the Building Ministers Forum (BMF) report, Building Confidence (one of which was having compulsory registration of engineers).

To learn about other ways in which Engineers Australia is helping to reform the sector, see 6 ways engineering profession lead building industry reforms.

 

The NSW Act provides for registration to apply to professional engineers practising in the areas of structural, civil, mechanical, electrical, and fire safety engineering, as well as any other areas that are prescribed by regulations, across all industries, not just the building industry. Current indicators are that the NSW Government will however restrict its application to the building sector, and initially only for work on Class 2 apartments.

If someone is providing a professional engineering service, they will need to be registered. This covers all aspects of engineering, unless if: working under supervision of a registered engineer or, if only following a prescriptive standard or design. Working on-site often draws on professional engineering judgement, so it would be prudent to be registered.

In addition to introducing a compulsory registration scheme for professional engineers in any industry, the Design and Building Practitioners Act 2020 (NSW) – which is the bill that passed Parliament in June – introduces a range of reforms that are specific to the building industry. They are mainly concerned with requiring and ensuring that a building is designed in accordance with the Building Code of Australia (BCA) and that the building is constructed in accordance with those designs. Builders will still be able to vary designs, but variations will have to be re-certified as complying with the BCA.

The Act and its forthcoming Regulations (specific details about how the new laws will function) specify which designs have to be specifically certified as meeting the requirements of the BCA and require a wide range of building sector-specific practitioners to be registered to practice. The Act specifies obligations and duties of care by practitioners.

A copy of the Act is available here.

Professional Indemnity insurance and liability

The focus all governments have on resolving the issues that have led to a crisis in the insurance market for the building sector is endorsed by Engineers Australia. If PI insurance is a condition of compulsory registration for engineers, it will ensure that those who are qualified to practice are also appropriately covered to practice. Engineers Australia's engagement with the insurance industry indicates that registration is one of many reforms that need to take place within the building sector before the Professional Indemnity Insurance (PII) market is likely to change.

The new law states that a registered professional engineer must be adequately insured. The detail of what constitutes adequate insurance will be determined in the Regulations (specific details about the new laws). Engineers Australia supports and will advocate for engineers to hold insurance via a personal contract, or by virtue of their employer's insurance contract.

Exposure to potential liability for an engineer is unaffected by compulsory registration. What registration does mean is that, if someone is found to have provided engineering services to an unacceptable standard, they may be removed from the register, and therefore be unable to continue practising as an engineer.

Also, a registered engineer is better able to resist pressures from clients to sign off on sub-standard work because it would place their ability to practice at risk. Compulsory registration brings the engineering profession into line with other professions, namely the medical and legal professions.

Other questions

Engineers Australia stepped up its advocacy for comprehensive registration of engineers in NSW in preparation for the most recent state election in March 2019.  We leveraged widespread interest in building sector reforms to make the case for engineer registration to apply to work in any industry.

Since the election, Engineers Australia has been at every government stakeholder meeting, worked with the state opposition and minor parties to make the case for registration, and ensured that the public is aware of this vital issue via countless media appearances on TV, radio and papers.

We have consistently done this in close consultation with Professionals Australia and the Institute for Public Works Engineers Australasia (IPWEA).

Central to this work is listening to our members. To build on years-long dialogue with members about registration in general, in July 2019 feedback about compulsory registration of engineers in NSW specifically was sought from all NSW-based members. Of those who responded to an email calling for comments, 91.5% expressed specific support for a registration scheme, just 3.4% expressed opposition.

In October 2019, Engineers Australia held the first in a series of member consultation and information sessions. These started in Newcastle, with about 50 people in the room and more than 300 live streaming by webinar. At this session there was a great deal of interest and a strong sentiment of support for a NSW scheme for registration of engineers. 

You can hear from some of our members who attended in this video.

The second event was held in Tamworth in February 2020, where again the room and those participating online told us that the profession supports a comprehensive scheme for engineer registration.

Again, see what those in Tamworth were saying, watch the video

By May 2020, our collective advocacy was bearing fruit and we were able to share the Government’s proposed reforms in detail to a group of almost 400 members via an online event. Afterwards, a simple polling question was posed: Do you support the NSW Parliament’s proposal for registration of engineers? Of the 204 people who answered, 80% said “yes.” Only 2% said “no” and a further 17% were “unsure.” 

At that time, the widely held understanding of the Government’s commitment was to apply registration across all industries.

In recent months, Engineers Australia has been one of several stakeholders advising the Government on how to implement the Act and write suitable Regulations. Drawing on advice of expert members and our own registration team, we have advised on several government ‘concept papers’. 

Due to confidentiality obligations imposed by the Government, we have been unable to share those documents with the membership in general. The advice we have provided is nonetheless consistent with the feedback provided by members over the past year.

This includes arguing strongly for the Act to be applied across all industries, and for the National Engineering Register (NER) to be a pathway for recognition on the state register. 
 

New registration schemes should operate nationally and align with what is already in place in QLD and have common minimum standards. Engineers Australia is specifically working towards this in NSW (and other states) through ongoing engagement with government. 

With each new state or territory that introduces registration, the Mutual Recognition Act 1992 (which is adopted in all jurisdictions) applies to ensure recognition of registration status across borders. 

In 2020, National Cabinet announced a proposal to implement an enhanced system for mutual recognition of occupations to make it even easier to maintain registered status in multiple states and territories. 

On 13 November, the National Cabinet agreed in principle to establish an Intergovernmental Agreement on Automatic Mutual Recognition of Occupational Licences, with that agreement to be signed by the end of 2020 following further work by the Council of Federal Financial Relations. To give effect to this, draft legislation to amend the Commonwealth Mutual Recognition Act 1992 will be released by the end of 2020 to facilitate automatic mutual recognition commencing by 1 July 2021. 

The NSW Act provides for registration to apply to professional engineers practising in the areas of structural, civil, mechanical, electrical, and fire safety engineering, as well as any other areas that are prescribed by regulations, across all industries, not just the building industry. Current indicators are that the NSW Government will however restrict its application to the building sector, and initially only for work on Class 2 apartments.

Engineering is an increasingly diverse profession and there is a need to create a system that captures all disciplines, without becoming too narrow. The areas of practice within the National Engineering Register and Registered Professional Engineer of Queensland systems is indicative of how this has been managed to-date and is a pointer to what will exist in NSW.

We need to create a system whereby engineering services are always overseen by an engineer with relevant experience. It should be noted that part of being a professional is recognising one's own limitations. For example, a civil engineer with a career in building bridges may not be the right person to sign-off on the design of an airport runway.

There are some instances where a professional engineer working in NSW is already working under a government scheme which provides checks for competence. Examples that have been highlighted by members include land surveyors and Accredited Service Providers under the Electricity Supply Act.

Engineers Australia will seek clarification during the regulation development phase. This phase is happening at the moment and is the process of developing the specifics about how compulsory registration of engineers in NSW will work. If you wish to highlight potential examples of regulatory cross-over, please send an email to [email protected].

Para-professionals often end up in lead roles managing professional engineers. Engineers Australia’s position is that all members of the engineering team should be registered. However, given the Government's focus on professional engineers, it is only professional engineers providing professional engineering services who will need to be registered under the laws introduced in NSW.

Anyone providing professional engineering services in NSW will be subject to NSW law. This applies to services for products as it does for anything else. For example, in NSW mechanical engineering is a prescribed area of engineering so anyone providing professional engineering services as a mechanical engineer in NSW and without supervision will need to be registered under the NSW scheme.

Engineers Australia will seek for the extraterritorial application of the NSW laws to be clarified in the Regulation development phase of the new laws.

By way of example, in Queensland, the Professional Engineers Act has limited extraterritorial application, meaning professional engineering services undertaken outside of Queensland for any building, plant, machinery or product for specific use in Queensland must be undertaken by a Registered Professional Engineer of Queensland (RPEQ), or a RPEQ must provide direct supervision.

For instance, the design of a high-rise structure or the manufacture of a bespoke piece of machinery to be used at a Queensland mine site would require the involvement of a RPEQ. A generic engineered product (e.g. a motor vehicle) with no specific connection to Queensland would not fall under the Act.

The Act provides for the Regulations (which are in effect the specific details of the new laws) to exclude some engineering work from the requirement for compulsory registration. Engineers Australia does not expect that government employees will be excluded. This will need to be confirmed after the Regulations for the Act are finalised.

Engineers Australia estimates that 50 hours of CPD per year is likely to cost about $500. This estimate is based on the fact that CPD is available in many forms and from a wide variety of providers, on the job and in personal time.

For regionally-based engineers, a lot of CPD can be accessed online, via webinars and in collaboration with peers. This also assists those who have different working arrangements because of the coronavirus pandemic. We also note that most engineers already perform CPD as part of their commitment to maintaining professional standards.

In QLD, being on the Engineers Australia NER or being Chartered is accepted as demonstrating the requirements for registration in that state. The new laws in NSW provide for a similar range of pathways and Engineers Australia is advocating for that to be formalised in the Regulations (which provide specific details of the new laws) prior to commencement of the new regime.

Engineers Australia advocates for all engineers who provide engineering services, except those who work under supervision, to be registered. This is the situation in QLD for professional engineers. As such, we do not expect graduates of professional engineering degrees in NSW to be eligible for registration until they have met prescribed requirements for experience.  On the basis of discussions being held with the NSW government and the experience with other jurisdictions, this is likely to be about five years of relevant experience.

Deregistration

The NSW laws require the Secretary of the relevant government department to maintain a register of registered practitioners which contains information prescribed by the forthcoming Regulations (specific details of the new laws). This may include details of prosecutions, penalty notices and so on. Under the law, the Secretary may also publish warning notices about a specified registered practitioner or former registered practitioner.


Under Queensland’s compulsory registration scheme, the Queensland Government doesn’t list deregistered engineers but if you enter someone's name, it will tell you whether they are de-registered.

It is not yet known how this part of the NSW system will operate.