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States move ahead on road to registration

It may have taken some time since the recommendations originally appeared at the top of the priority list in the 2018 Building Confidence report, but professional registration schemes are now spreading quickly across the country, and establishing new rules to lift standards in Australia’s building and construction industry.

Practice Standard in New South Wales

This week marks the deadline for public comment on a proposed Practice Standard for Professional Engineers. The government has developed this with the aim of providing a clear and enforceable standard of what is expected and required of professional engineers under the Design and Building Practitioners Act 2020.

A key feature of the proposed is the requirement for the design engineer to conduct onsite inspections during the construction phase of a project. The standard also lays out new obligations for independent third-party reviews and expert witness work conducted by professional engineers, as well as supervision of unregistered people.

The NSW government is seeking feedback on the Practice Standard through the Have your say website until August 18.

WA and SA march on

Western Australia and South Australia are yet to introduce their schemes, but both have recently taken big steps towards implementation.

In WA, commencement of registration is set for July 1, 2024, for structural and fire safety engineers, and July 1, 2025 for civil and mechanical engineers.

There will be a two-year transition period after each of these dates, during which those who are unregistered may continue to work, before registration becomes mandatory on July 1, 2026 for structural and fire safety engineers, or July 1, 2027 for civil and mechanical engineers.

South Australia, meanwhile, has called for feedback on a new registration scheme for professional engineers. Consumer and Business Services (CBS) has prepared a discussion paper, developed through consultation with professional engineers’ associations in SA and also taking into account the schemes operating in other jurisdictions.

The discussion paper is available on the yourSAy website.

Cross-country consistency?

As the states and territories roll out different systems for professional registration, questions are arising about working across borders. Will professionals need to register separately in each jurisdiction, or will they be able to obtain registration more easily or even automatically through mutual recognition?

The Federal Court of Australia recently handed down a decision relating to this question – albeit for building surveyors rather than engineers. A building surveyor registered in WA sought registration in Victoria under the mutual recognition laws, but was denied by the Victorian Building Authority (VBA) on the grounds that in WA, registration does not authorise a building surveyor to issue the same kinds of permits and directions as required in Victoria.

When the surveyor appealed the decision, the Federal Court of Australia disagreed with the VBA, noting that the test for equivalence should be based on the work activities of an occupation, rather than its statutory functions. In other words, building surveying in one state is equivalent to building surveying in another state, as both must comply with the NCC and other standards.

“This case will be relevant for any jurisdiction refusing registration to building surveyors applying under mutual recognition laws,” said lawyer Bronwyn Weir, posting on LinkedIn. “Arguably it also raises questions about why all states and territories should not be allowing automatic mutual recognition for building surveyors.

“[It’s] a blow to federation and a win for those who have been calling for a move toward a more harmonised approach to registration for building practitioners across the country.”

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