Building Bill No.9 of 2016 - Second Reading Speech

Mrs Armitage (Launceston) - Mr President, I appreciate the Government bringing forward this bill to hopefully reduce some of the red tape and restrictions associated with building. All too often we hear of planning permits, development applications and building costs that actually end up costing more than the proposed building works were worth. More often than not, these are then abandoned.

I am sure the member for Windermere will recall when we were both on the local council there were many occasions when people would come to you wanting to put up something akin to a lean-to attached to their house. Because it was attached to the house and it had a pole, it all became extremely difficult with planning, building and several thousand dollars in costs for something that was probably going to cost them a lot less than that to actually build. I do appreciate the bill before us.

I note the new categories of building and the demolition work which are very clear and easy to understand. That is really important. For example, category 1 is low-risk building work that can be undertaken by an owner, licensed builder or competent person which includes installation of an awning, tank stands, porch, roof, enclosed sheds with a maximum size of 18 square metres and decks of a maximum of one metre or less above ground level, to name a few. It is important that small building works can be undertaken by an owner-builder or a competent person.

Category 2 is low-risk building work that can only be undertaken by a licensed builder or a licensed demolisher, including larger sheds up to 36 square metres, swimming pools or spas, machinery or plant rooms, et cetera.

Category 3 is notifiable building work or notifiable demolition work that can only be undertaken by a licensed builder/demolisher under the authorisation of a building surveyor, including unlimited size sheds, boundary retaining walls, underpinning, et cetera.

Category 4 is building work that requires a building permit or demolition work that requires a demolition permit and can only be undertaken by a licensed builder/demolisher under the permit of a permit authority.

It is good that it is clearly set out and it is easy to understand. As has been mentioned by the members for Apsley and Murchison, it is incumbent upon us to make sure that builders are aware of the changes to the Building Act so they do not fall foul.

It is also noted that any works commenced under the current Building Act will remain under that act. It is important so that people have surety and know what they are doing. It would be appreciated if the Leader could advise whether prosecutions, which may be underway already under the previous act but are not completed until the time the bill comes into force, continue to be relevant or whether they lapse. If they have not been completed and the bill comes in, and they have been undertaken by a council, do they still continue or do they lapse, or do they need to be completed before the bill?

As mentioned previously, it is sometimes more costly to get a permit to build a small carport with compliance costs higher than the cost of building it. This bill seems to improve those matters. It makes building as simple as possible for simple projects. I am sure council planning staff will realistically be quite happy with this. In the Launceston City Council I have said on many occasions to the planning director, it has to be the hardest area for any council. It is the area where it does not matter what they do, there will always be complaints. There are always issues and concerns regarding planning and what people want to build. People change their minds. They will come in and see one planner and they will come back and see someone else. They will change their plans. They will change their mind. It is such a hard area of council. The planners and the building department staff work extremely hard on councils. It is important to give them credit for the work they do as all too often they get complaints. With much low-risk work now not going to council, there should be a reduction in legal work, which should ease councils' workload.

Honourable Leader, I have appreciated the briefings. They were good, as were the questions and answers provided. It makes a difference when you think that is a question I was going ask. It is good to have it in writing, particularly if we are asked those questions.

I note that the Government has listened to the concerns of industry and made the appropriate amendments. I have also spoken to quite a few in the building industry and they tell me they are quite happy with the bill. They do not think it should cause too many problems and they are sure if issues come up they are not aware of at this moment that they can come back at a later time for amendment. It is important to have the right protections in place for more complex builds, whilst still removing too many restrictions for lesser works and smaller structures.

I thank the Government for the bill that is before us. Mr President, I support the bill.

Mr Dean - Before you sit down, do you not want to mention the homes in Blackstone Heights that have fallen apart and the reasons why we need this good legislation? It is a good example of where things went terribly wrong.

Mrs Armitage - I will mention it but I do not know that it is to do with the building legislation. The member for Windermere is referring to six homes at Blackstone Heights where the land in front of them is falling towards the river. This is a terrible situation for the owners. One owner owns three properties and another owner owns the other three properties. One owner has gone bankrupt because they could not afford for the bank to continue to want the money that was owing. The second owner cannot afford to go bankrupt because they will have to give up many of their other properties. It is a very difficult situation.

When the constituent who came to me bought the first two units they were lovely units overlooking the water. They lived in them for some time quite happily without any problems. There was a vacant block next door. They proceeded to build on the vacant block thinking this was great and they would live on the vacant block and their two daughters, one of whom has Down syndrome, could live independently in one of the units so that she could live on her own but be near to the family. This occurred for a short while until there was a sewerage problem. They had TasWater investigate the sewerage problem and they did some digging to try to ascertain what the problem was. After they had dug some sizable holes the land just went and it slipped down towards the river. The Treasurer came up and looked but unfortunately because it is landfill and not landslip -

Ms Forrest - They should not have been able to build there in the first place, I should think.

Mrs Armitage - One would think that but the biggest problem is, it is on a slope that is higher than is recommended but it was under a previous council, under the old Westbury council, when the land was developed.

As you can imagine, with insurance companies not allowed to admit liability, the current council is in a very difficult situation. I have been to many builders and surveyors and councils and spoken to many people to try to find some assistance for these people. It is one of those situations. As I said, the Treasurer came up and he felt the same as I did. He looked at it and said, 'It is a dreadful situation that you cannot live in these houses yet you are still paying the mortgage and you cannot sell them'. One would think there has to be an answer for people in this situation. But I can also understand from a council's perspective that they cannot admit liability. They have to follow the instructions of their insurer. The only option open to my constituents is to sue. The question then is, who do they sue. Do they sue the original council? Do they sue the developer? Do they sue the builder? Do they sue the engineer? There is no easy answer.

Yes, member for Windermere, it is a horrible situation. The lady comes into my office and she has been in tears on many occasions because she cannot afford to go bankrupt. She hoped that this was going to be where they would live with their two daughters, to allow the daughter with Down syndrome to be able to have independence but live nearby. Now their whole life has been turned upside down through no fault of their own. If anyone has any suggestions I would appreciate it.

I do not know whether this bill may prevent things like that happening in the future. It may because when the previous buildings were built, I am quite sure they did not have the insurances for the builder and the developers in place that they have now. Perhaps if they had been in place there would have been at least some recourse for what has happened.

Ms Forrest - The issue might have been that they should not have been able to build there in the first place, so if it is land that was landfilled, it was obviously not solid.

Mrs Armitage - Are we talking about the council?

Ms Forrest - Potentially.

Mrs Armitage - The council has other excuses and says they just take notice of the documents provided to them by qualified people.

Ms Forrest - Yes, so the buck-passing continues.

Mrs Armitage - Absolutely, and they also say that originally it was not under the current council. But I pointed out to the council involved that if you take the assets from a previous council you also take their liabilities. You cannot shove one away, you cannot pick and choose. However, it does become very difficult when insurance companies are involved because insurance companies say they do not accept liabilities, so sue us. It is a very hard situation for people who cannot afford to sue and cannot afford to live there. I hope this bill will prevent circumstances like that again. We can only hope that those people have a successful outcome.

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