Legislation to establish a register of engineers has been re-introduced to State Parliament and, should it pass Parliament and become law, it would represent historic and positive reform for the engineering profession in Victoria and significantly enhance community safety.
The main reason our organisation is supportive of the legislation is that compulsory registration of engineers will ensure that only competent, current, degree-qualified engineers can independently provide engineering services. This will build and enhance community safety across Victoria, and safeguard against engineering failure. Currently, consumers have no real way of knowing whether they are dealing with a qualified, competent engineer who maintains standards through ongoing professional development and is bound by a code of conduct. Doctors, architects and lawyers have to register to practice – but engineers do not, meaning that as things stand, any person can “hang out their shingle” and call themselves an engineer.
While we, as engineers, are primarily focused on the many benefits that a compulsory registration scheme for engineers in Victoria would bring to our profession, including that it would raise the professional profile of engineers, it is worth reflecting on the broader reasons why a scheme has the support of Engineers Australia. These include, but are not limited to:
- People who are not registered engineers will not be able to undertake engineering work without supervision and can be penalised for doing so;
- Engineers who do not uphold the highest standards will be subject to greater accountability – and penalties;
- Skilled tradies are licenced, but engineers who presently supervise them do not have to be registered; and
- Industry and the Victorian economy will be strengthened.
Engineers Australia has conducted seminars, workshops, meetings and other forms of communication as part of the extensive consultation with our members that we have conducted on this legislation before Parliament. We have carefully considered all feedback that members have provided to us and the overwhelming majority of members support a register of engineers. And as we are a key stakeholder, the government has considered our views and feedback during development of the legislation. In addition, according to a survey of engineers across Victoria, 77 per cent supported the introduction of a register of engineers. In a poll of 321 people conducted in April 2018, in response to the question “do you think engineers in Victoria should or should not have to be registered or licensed”, 93 per cent of people polled answered “yes, should have to be registered or licensed”.
It has become clearer in the past few months that compulsory registration of engineers could soon become a legal requirement in many other parts of Australia, if it isn’t already. In Queensland, it has been compulsory to register as an engineer since 1930. During the recent NSW state election both major parties committed to introducing a register of engineers, if elected. This is as a direct result of the structural damage to the Opal Tower apartment building in Sydney, which forced residents to move out. The NSW Government-commissioned independent investigation report into the Opal Tower damage found that if a registry of engineers had been created, this “would have significantly reduced the likelihood of, or avoided, the Opal Tower damage”.
The first recommendation in a separate major report (Shergold Weir report, dated February 2018) to relevant federal and state/territory government Ministers about improving the effectiveness of compliance and enforcement systems for the building and construction industry was “that each jurisdiction (state/territory) requires the registration of the following categories of building practitioners in the design, construction and maintenance of buildings: (among others) engineer”. The report was written by former Secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Professor Peter Shergold AC and building regulation legal specialist, Ms Bronwyn Weir.
For those of you who might have concerns about the cost of registration, the government has publicly stated the registration fee in Victoria would be less than what is being charged in Queensland. Given the registration fee in Queensland is around $200 per annum, this would be a very small price to pay for greater community safety across Victoria.
The passage of legislation through Parliament is an extremely uncertain process and there are no guarantees that this piece of legislation will, in fact, pass Parliament. Throughout the period when Parliament is considering the legislation, Engineers Australia will continue to consult with members about any concerns you might have and keep you informed about relevant developments. Then, if the legislation passes Parliament, regulations which support the implementation of the legislation will be developed and as this is taking place, there will be further opportunities for input/engagement by members.
If you have any questions about the registration of engineers legislation at any time, please make contact, either by email or phone on 1300 653 113.