“Minister Gordon Ramsay says developers who do the right thing have nothing to fear. However, some prominent developers in Canberra would like to have no external checks and balances,” writes political columnist MICHAEL MOORE.
CANBERRA developers do not like the “dodgy-developer” label. They see it as “unfair” and “degrading”.
The term is a generalisation. And to every generalisation there are exemptions. However, people living in dodgy and unsafe apartments are the ones who really understand unfair and degrading. The time is right for government action.
Gordon Ramsay is the Minister for Building Quality Improvement and is responsible for ensuring better construction and setting the parameters for better and safer construction. His campaign to bring developers and builders into line is really just getting underway. It is a move in the right direction.
Arguments by “perplexed” developers are ridiculous. Laws are rarely directed to compliant citizens but rather to hold others to account.
The first argument against regulation is that it ought not be the developers who are held to account. It should be the builders, architects, engineers and tradies. Anyone but us. Nonsense! Of course developers should not be exempted. Builders, the professions and trades, as well as the developers, all need to be subjected to accountability measures.
The ACT government is preparing legislation and regulation to ensure safe, effective construction. The boardroom and their directors is the right place for ultimate focus. Developers who do not ensure compliance with ACT building standards must be held to account.
Minister Ramsay points out that developers who do the right thing have nothing to fear. However, some prominent developers in Canberra would like to have no external checks and balances.
Barry Morris is reported by Tom Lowry, of the ABC, arguing the government has it wrong. “They’re going up the food chain to developers but, in fact, I think they should be going the other direction down the food chain to consultants, designers, all the engineering disciplines,” he said.
The other direction is important. However, developers are the ones project managing the buildings. Developers are the ones with ultimate responsibility. Developers are the ones who take the risks and who stand to make the prime profit. The perspective that the government does not understand the relationship between the developers, builders and subcontractors is untenable.
Of course, developers argue that it is unfair for them to carry the risk and be held accountable for the actions of other licensed professionals. How unfair is that compared to people who have taken mortgages to purchase an apartment that is uninhabitable? Currently there is no real path to follow for a faulty apartment, or worse still, when a whole building is faulty.
Morris’ argument is “we have an arm’s-length, third-party contract with a builder, and the builder then has arm’s-length contracts with designers and subcontractors”. And when things go wrong, where does the purchaser go?
The ACT government has come in for constant criticism on the issue of building and development and it needs to be congratulated for finally taking action. However, much more needs to be done.
The relationship between large developers and building inspectors also needs close examination. The question to be explored is whether it is simply too easy for an unhealthy, interdependent relationship to flourish. This is a matter that ought to be one of the first to be examined by Justice Dennis Cowdroy through the anti-corruption and integrity commission that he now chairs.
Coming out in support of Barry Morris was a spokesperson from the Doma Group who opposed licensing of developers as unrealistic. She is also reported by Tom Lowry as arguing: “The notion that a developer can force a builder to cut corners to save costs is foreign to us, as the builders we use would rightly reject any such pressure”.
She added: “The call to licence developers and make them responsible for building defects to address building-quality issues is completely misdirected and disingenuous”.
The notion of licensing and accountability might be offensive to some developers. However, Ramsay’s response indicates appropriate firmness from the government. He argued: “The fish rots from the head” and indicated that the government has no intention to back off from its plan to exclude “dodgy” developers from the ACT.
Michael Moore is a former member of the ACT Legislative Assembly and an independent minister for health. He has been a political columnist with “CityNews” since 2006.