Building Legislation Amendment (Consumer Protection) Bill 2015

Ms GRALEY (Narre Warren South) — It is a pleasure this afternoon to speak on the Building Legislation Amendment (Consumer Protection) Bill 2015. I take great pride in speaking on this bill because my electorate is one of the fastest growing areas in Australia. Many houses are being built there daily and people are enjoying the pleasure of moving into their home, having had the experience of choosing all the new tiles and floor coverings and kitchen cupboards et cetera. Building a new home is a joyful experience, but it is one of life’s greatest expenses. It is a big commitment, so it is very important that, having taken on the challenge of building your own home — your dream home — it ends up looking like you expected it to.

As we know, Australians are keen renovators. I think The Block has one of the highest ratings for TV audiences, and the do-it-yourself industry, as well as the construction industry in Victoria, is one of our growth industries. So when people undertake this big commitment of building a new home or renovating their home — I must say I have had the pleasure recently of doing some of that — we expect our construction industry, our builders, to deliver us the best product available. It does not mean just getting them all looking lovely, but that these buildings that we are going to live in, that we are going to share joyous times in, are safe and attractive places that we want to be in, and we are not walking around seeing cracks or potential fire hazards or crumbling walls. Yet that has been the unfortunate experience of some of my constituents who have come to my office, and who have experienced what can only be considered shoddy building. So it is very important that the government has made this decision on the back of an Auditor-General’s report — a very substantial one — which found some very concerning deficiencies in the way that the construction industry operated and the recourse available to consumers when builders or other service providers did not provide the dream home or dream renovation that residents and families were expecting.

I must say the majority of builders do a good job. As I said, it is a thriving industry in Victoria, and we are very pleased to be able to encourage our young people to take up trades and get involved in the construction industry. Indeed it is one of the key drivers of our economy in Victoria, so it is very important that its reputation is kept intact and that we can look to builders with trust and reliability. When you have this experience of constituents telling you about shoddy builders, it really is quite a heart-wrenching experience, and for them it is often a very difficult experience in terms of getting some sort of recourse.

One of the things I hear from my residents over and over again is that they just want the problem fixed. This first piece of legislation is the first step in making sure it is much easier for consumers to have their problems fixed and to have their sometimes inadequate compensation be a little bit more generous. I would like to also direct the minister’s attention to the fact that one of the things that I have heard a lot about lately is of young people in the trades industry who are actually going out and working with some of these shonky builders. They do not know that they are shonky in the first place, I must say; they are looking for the experience of plying their trade. They are finding that they take up the opportunity to do some tiling or do some carpentry or, in one case that I am very familiar with, do some very comprehensive building work. He was a young subcontractor trying to establish his own business and delivering good quality work.

Many of these young men and women are not being adequately paid by the builders. In fact they are finding it very difficult to get paid per se. In three cases that I know of the young men have had to take recourse through the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal. Thankfully they have had supportive parents and supportive members of Parliament who have encouraged them and guided them through this process. But the industry really does have to have a look at itself in terms of making sure that the young people who have skilled themselves up — paid to learn a trade, gone to a TAFE course, gone out and, often, established their own business so that they can look after their families and grow prosperity for themselves and also their local economy — are adequately paid and are paid on time. They should not have to go around sending debt collectors or visiting their local MPs to make sure that they get the money that they deserve for the trades that they have plied.

This is a very good bill not only for consumers but also for the industry. As previous speakers have said, there are a lot of people in the building industry who do the right thing, but, as the Victorian Auditor-General found last year, government inaction, lax registration of builders and poor oversight of surveyors were having a profound impact on home owners and renovators. The Victorian Building Authority’s investigation of the Rangeview estate is featured in the business section of today’s Age. An article headed ‘Builder fined for gross negligence’ reports it found major defects in dozens of homes, including in firewalls which could have caused a ‘serious risk to life’.

So this is a serious piece of legislation. It really is a very important piece of legislation for making sure that people moving into their new homes or renovating their old homes not only have their dream home, as I said before, but also do not have their life put at risk in moving into their home. I would like to finish by saying that the Consumer Action Law Centre has got behind this bill. It has said that it is very much behind creating the new body called Domestic Building Dispute Resolution Victoria to resolve building disputes. Let us hope that is an easier process for our consumers. The Consumer Action Law Centre CEO, Gerard Brody, is reported as saying:

… it was welcome that the new body will have the power to award compensation as well as order builders to repair shoddy work.

I think people, constituents in my electorate, would be very happy with that outcome. I commend the bill to the house.