Report: Professional Engineers Registration Bill 2019

(Report to Parliament, 29 July 2020, Legislative Assembly, NSW Parliament)

As chair of the Committee on Environment and Planning, I speak to the committee's report, tabled on 15 July 2020, of its inquiry into the Professional Engineers Registration Bill 2019. The Professional Engineers Registration Bill 2109, introduced to the House by the shadow Minister for Building Reform and Property, Yasmin Catley, MP, was referred to the committee in November 2019. This was a unique referral, being the first time in recent history that a bill has been referred to a lower House committee. The bill addressed one aspect of the building and construction industry: the registration of engineers. This was in response to the exposure of a number of problems within the industry following recent cases of defects in residential high-rise apartments. These incidents have had serious consequences for owners, who are left to foot the bill for costly repairs with few options for recourse. The bill was referred to our committee in the context of broader building reforms proposed by the Government, which aimed to address these industry-wide issues.

In the time since our inquiry's hearings the Government's wider reforms to the building and construction sector have passed Parliament. The Design and Building Practitioners Act 2020 contained welcome reforms that should improve residential construction standards. Importantly, the Act also provided for the registration of engineers. Our inquiry found that the introduction of a broad-based scheme to register engineers is a necessary and effective means of promoting transparency, accountability and higher standards in the industry. This view was widely supported by inquiry participants, including professional associations, academics and key unions, many of whom outlined their sustained and ongoing advocacy for a registration scheme.

The Design and Building Practitioners Act 2020 introduced a requirement for certain classes of engineers to be registered from 1 July 2021. To be registered, engineers will have to show that they are qualified and competent to work as a professional engineer. They will also have to undertake continuing professional development to keep their skills current. We commend this reform and believe it will improve standards in the engineering profession as well as the sectors engineers work in. This is a positive outcome and is the result of a multi‑party cooperation throughout both the inquiry process and during the passage of the legislation.

While the registration requirement is a positive step towards reforming the industry, the committee considered that the legislated scheme could be improved further. We made a number of recommendations and findings in our report that should be considered during the Government's statutory review of the Act. These include incorporating elements of the engineers bill that were supported by a range of stakeholders and identified as important parts of the registration framework. The registration model proposed in the engineers bill was based on the Queensland system. The model adopted through the Act is different in that the Secretary of the Department of Customer Service will manage the registration process, instead of a board of professional engineers. We think that a board-run model should be looked at, as we found that it was a cost-effective and efficient way to register engineers.

We also recommended that areas of engineering covered by the framework be considered as part of the statutory review. We heard that geotechnical and hydraulic engineering are important disciplines in the building sector and should require registration. We note that regulations will have to be made under the Act to refine its operation and flesh out the details. It is important that these regulations be released for consultation so that industry participants can identify issues and provide useful feedback. However, we heard that given extensive consultation has already occurred this process should be quick and targeted.

We congratulate the Government on its reforms to the building sector. The framework for effective regulation of the sector has been established. While we feel that elements of the registration scheme could be refined, it is clear that consumers will benefit from these changes. In closing, I thank my fellow committee members for their valuable, cooperative contributions throughout the inquiry process. I also thank the Minister for Better Regulation and Innovation, Kevin Anderson, and the shadow Minister, Yasmin Catley, for their ongoing commitment to better building outcomes for the people of New South Wales. I thank all stakeholders who participated in the inquiry. I especially thank the committee staff for their professionalism and support, which was certainly challenging for them at times given the COVID-19 pandemic and the way in which we needed to amend our working style and meeting practice. I commend the report to the House.