NSW-Without a fearless sheriff, development cowboys may ride again

It’s time for Associations such as ACRA -Remedial Industry Association to help the team from Construct NSW keep the standards high that David Chandler OAM has put in place and has worked so hard on.

The NSW development industry can resemble the wild west at times and, sadly, its most effective sheriff is about to surrender his badge.

In a decision that may bring a smile to the faces of the sector’s cowboys, NSW Building Commissioner David Chandler has decided to resign, six months earlier than planned.

Chandler and his Construct NSW team – including the posse of auditors he assembled – have achieved more in regulatory reform in two years than had been achieved in the previous three decades in any jurisdiction in Australia.

Back in 2020, when the position of commissioner was first created, I wrote that bad operators in high-rise residential development would have reason to be fearful of the sweeping powers assigned to the role. Since then, many of the outlaws who previously operated unfettered in the wild west of multi-storey apartment design and building have been brought to account. The key issue of information asymmetry between consumer and developer has been addressed via the developer, builder and project rating system.

The lawlessness has now begun to be brought into check.

As one of 150 industry experts engaged in development of the reforms with the commissioner’s team, I have seen close at hand the impact of the new regulations on the design, the construction and the certification sectors of high-rise residential building. Much has been achieved, but there is much still to be done. In many ways, the commissioner’s resignation is just the end of the beginning.

So why is he leaving? There is much conjecture, but six months is a mere blip in the scheme of things, and it would appear that he is going at a time of his own choosing.

Fortunately, the role of building commissioner is enshrined in the Residential Apartment Building Act, so it’s not the end of the road for this role, with the essential sweeping powers intact. These powers are needed to make the recalcitrant players of the industry take heed. A new commissioner with the necessary will, experience and energy now needs to be appointed.

But what does the Chandler resignation mean for building regulation reform and building practice improvement in NSW? Unfortunately, dodgy operators will be hoping the new sheriff is not up to the task. It will need strong political will over these next years to keep the reforms on track.

One stellar reform is the so-called Decennial Liability Insurance which has just been launched. It rises phoenix like from the ashes of building insurance initiatives over the last 25 years. It compliments the commissioner team’s necessary focus so far on prevention initiatives at design stage and the auditing of the implementation of those designs at construction stage.

Otherwise known as “latent defects insurance” it works something like having a 10-year comprehensive car insurance policy for the building held in the name of the owners’ corporation. It takes an entirely different approach by auditing the proposed buildings design and requiring any necessary compliance changes to the design before construction commences. It also involves auditing to check that the construction is carried out in accordance with those same approved drawings and specifications. It will require careful tending by the new commissioner if it is to succeed.

There is the whole subject of licensing, the review of which has only just gained momentum under Commissioner Chandler. At present, there are only a fistful of trades or professions requiring licensing in this field. Project managers and safety contractors require no licensing at all while engineers are only recently required to be licensed for Class 2 high-rise developments.

There has also been much disquiet about the application of the new Design and Building Practitioners Regulation to the remedial industry. A mixture of confusion and fear reigns here at present. This will need to be handled with urgency by the new commissioner. The regulation changes applied to remedial works are simple, but the implications are complex in a largely unregulated area.

Chandler’s replacement might not be a copy of the first sheriff. Hard to replicate the brash style, deep industry knowledge, sense of fairness and humour. But he or she doesn’t need to be. A shiny new badge should be cast. But there is a sense that we have not seen the last of Chandler yet.

It’s a unique set of skills needed to initiate and sell groundbreaking reforms such as these. It’s another set of skills to preserve the essence of the reforms in battle while managing their equitable implementation.

I think there is still plenty of fight left in the Old Sheriff yet. Whether on a state or national platform it would be good to keep him advising from the sidelines. There’s still more than a few bunfights to be fought around these here parts.


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