The registration debate heats up

On Wednesday 23 October, the NSW Government introduced its Design and Building Practitioners Bill and made its ‘second reading’ speech to Parliament.
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The registration debate heats up

On Wednesday 23 October, the NSW Government introduced its Design and Building Practitioners Bill and made its ‘second reading’ speech to Parliament.

Jargon alert: A Bill is a document that, if agreed by Parliament, will become an Act and therefore law. The Second reading speech is made to Parliament to explain how the Bill is designed to operate. It is important because it is a formal statement to Parliament and is used by courts to interpret the legislation.

The Government’s reforms have been keenly debated with Engineers Australia over several months. Now we have seen the Bill and heard the Minister’s speech, Engineers Australia and its members can be proud to have influenced positive changes to the Government’s plans:

  • The reforms will extend beyond apartments: The Government still intends to start with apartments but has told Parliament it will include other classes of buildings such as hospitals, schools and other multi-story buildings over time. This is not stipulated in the Bill, so we need to ensure that commitment is honoured.
  • The types of engineering services to be regulated in the building sector is likely to be broadened: The Bill specifies that the reforms apply to work on load bearing elements, fire protection, water proofing and walls/roofs. Pleasingly, the Government’s speech to Parliament shows an important acknowledgment that the reforms should apply to much more and “consideration will also be given to including hydraulic, electrical and mechanical systems.” We believe that all engineering design under the Building Code of Australia should be done by a registered engineer, and we will advocate for this during the development of regulations in 2020.
  • A comprehensive registration scheme is still missing: The major gap in the Government’s reform package is a commitment to a Professional Engineers Registration Act. Without this, loopholes in regulating practice will remain, and it is unclear how an efficient and effective regulatory scheme can operate in NSW without a registration Act. Furthermore, the opportunity to finally introduce registration in NSW for engineers more broadly will be missed.

An interesting development from Labor

On Thursday, the very next day after the Government’s Bill was introduced, the NSW Labor opposition introduced its own.

And what did they bring to the table? None other than a Professional Engineers Registration Bill!

NSW Labor went to the last election with a commitment to register engineers, and in August gave notice to Parliament of its intention to follow through with a Bill, so it shouldn’t really be a surprise that this has popped up.

Engineers Australia has provided in-depth advice to all parties of Parliament and it’s heartening to see that both the Government and Opposition have taken elements of our advice on board.

This matters because, when the system of Australian governance is broken down to its fundamental parts, we know that whilst a political party introduces Bills, only the full Parliament can turn them into laws.

Now is a wonderful opportunity for the politicians on Macquarie street to demonstrate an ability to work together in the interests of the people of NSW.

The Government has a reform process in progress, but it needs additional work to make it complete. The Opposition has introduced exactly the remedy needed but doesn’t have the numbers to get it passed. These two Bills—one from the Coalition and one from Labor—can merge to deliver the definition of synergy: an effect greater than the sum of their parts. (Can you tell that your author has a passion for good public policy?)

What’s next?

There are just two weeks of Parliament left in 2019, so debate on these Bills will have to move fast. The last day to pass them is Thursday 21 November or the issue will carry over to February 2020 when Parliament resumes after Christmas.

The Government Bill is certain to pass the lower house (where it controls the numbers), but it may run into trouble in the upper house (where the Government relies on the support of Labor or minor parties). Some upper house members have already voiced serious concerns with the detail of the Government Bill, so we may see some amendments made before it is finalised.

The Private Members Bill introduced by Labor faces a different challenge. The big question is: will the Government view it as a good solution to a public policy dilemma, or will it oppose it on political grounds, or propose a better plan?

What does this mean for you - the working engineer?

Engineers need to get ready!

One thing is certain: registration of engineers is coming to NSW. Which engineers and industries it will apply to is yet to be determined. For structural and fire safety engineers in the building sector, it’s a safe bet that you need to get ready.

The Government’s speech to Parliament on Thursday noted that,“Consideration will also be given to leveraging existing inter jurisdictional licensing frameworks for engineers so that they may be recognised as design practitioners for the purposes of the Bill.”

This is good news and shows the NSW Government is keen to limit duplication in registration processes across the nation.

If the Labor Bill ends up being passed, it currently has a proposed start date of January 2022.

We need your help! Take action! Share your voice!

Engineers Australia is committed to advocating for comprehensive registration of engineers in NSW, and all other states and territories.

The public debate is focused on buildings.

Let’s grab this issue by the horns and help all of Parliament see that comprehensive registration for engineers is in your interests and the community’s

While NSW Parliament is on a 2-week break – NOW is the time to write to your local member. Tell them you think ALL engineers, in ALL industries should be registered to practice.

We suggest you voice your concerns with your local member:

• Look them up here: https://bit.ly/2WbLl7H
• Once you know your MP’s name, find their email address here: https://bit.ly/32Lm2vL.

Every voice matters. After all: a single grain of rice can tip the scales.

 

Jonathan Russell, National Manager for Public Affairs, Engineers Australia