MR DIMOPOULOS (Oakleigh) — It gives me pleasure to speak on this really important bill, the Building Legislation Amendment (Consumer Protection) Bill 2015. I just want to make a few brief comments primarily centred around my experience as a local MP with a number of constituents but one principally who has had such a big and devastating experience with what we know now is the inadequate consumer protection provided under the current domestic building framework. I also had those experiences when I was on council. There were many conversations with many people who were caught out by the inadequate protections of the existing system.
I specifically want to refer to Lana Zaitsen and her husband, Boris. Lana’s story has been well publicised. She has been on radio and in the print media. She and her husband have been through the most devastating circumstances in their battle with a former builder, and the entire sorry affair connected to a domestic building dispute has had a significant impact on both of them financially and emotionally. It has left Lana Zaitsen materially impacted and detrimentally affected, and she has been trying to find justice ever since. It appears to me that she and her husband have exhausted all possible avenues. While they have had some recompense it is nowhere near what they should have received, and that is because of the inadequacy of the system. I think they deserve far better than what they have got.
I am very pleased with the fact that this government has acted on the recommendations of the Auditor-General’s report entitled Victoria’s Consumer Protection Framework for Building Construction, which was released in May last year. As the member for Buninyong said, this is the first of at least two bills which seek to address the recommendations of the Auditor-General’s report.
The provision in the bill that I want to briefly mention and that is of particular interest to me because of experiences I have had with my community is the improved oversight of building surveyors and building work to ensure there is early intervention regarding poor-quality building work at the point where problems are most readily and affordably addressed. I think that is a really key point because often things have gone too far before the intervention occurs, making any solution far less obvious and practical. This provision includes stronger powers for building surveyors and authorised persons of the Victorian Building Authority (VBA) to direct builders to fix defective building work.
The other provision I am particularly pleased to see in this bill is expanded grounds for discipline, an expanded range of disciplinary sanctions and the introduction of a more efficient ‘show cause’ disciplinary process with the right of appeal of VBA disciplinary decisions to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal. The other provision is a set of measures to address the potential conflict of interest for building surveyors together with measures that provide more flexibility in arrangements for building surveyors, including the ability to appoint a manager to a building surveyor’s business. I think those provisions are critical, and the sophistication and nuance of the provisions speaks to the litany of human experience that we are trying to address. It is almost like a giant process review of what has gone wrong in the building industry and what consumers have suffered.
I just want to remind the chamber of the key findings of the Auditor-General’s pretty seminal work. They were essentially, as others have said, that the framework for the protection of consumers is far too complex. I have experienced that. I am someone who is fairly used to reading legislation, policies and a whole range of similar documents, having been in government for some years both in the public service and on the council. In trying to assist Lana and her husband, but others as well, I found the system very complex to navigate.
Another finding by the Auditor-General was that it can be difficult for consumers to navigate the system. Obviously it is difficult for us, let alone consumers. He also found that the oversight of building surveyors is deficient, that monitoring and enforcement activities do not yet provide assurances that domestic building construction complies with minimum standards and that domestic building insurance provides only limited protection — as I explained in the case of my constituents — for consumers and is significantly more costly than it needs to be.
As other colleagues have said, it is something that rolls off the tongue, but the impacts are far deeper than just a set of words. The investment in their family home is often the largest investment that people make, and there is a huge personal attachment to it. Quite rightly, in a modern society people expect the government to provide the laws of the state to provide sufficient protection from shonky providers of building services. I am really pleased that this is what we are setting out to do here. It is a long time coming, but unfortunately in many respects it will not address the experiences of the constituents I have spoken to and who have shared tears in my office with me about their loss of, literally, hundreds of thousands of dollars, loss of sleep and loss of a dream — of living in their home that they had aspired to live in with their families. This will not fix their problem unfortunately, but hopefully they will have peace of mind knowing that it will be far less likely, after this bill passes, and the next one — to complete the recommendations of the Victorian Auditor-General’s Office report — to happen to other people, and that we will slowly clean up the system. I commend the bill to the house.