Industry go face-to-face with Commissioner

11 June 2019

MORE than 150 building and construction industry reps revelled in a rare opportunity to have their questions answered as they came face-to-face with the tough cop on the beat.

Queensland Building and Construction Commission (QBCC) Commissioner, Brett Bassett stirred passionate discussion verging on unrest amongst the crowd, as he took to the stage at the Master Builders Industry Leaders Lunch held at the Brisbane Convention & Exhibition centre on Friday, 7 June.

Seated on a chair beside Mr Bassett, Master Builders Deputy CEO, Paul Bidwell facilitated questions from the floor following the Commissioner’s presentation, with Mr Bidwell urging those present to “ask their curly questions”.

While there was a general consensus around the room that “taking the cowboy builders and subbies out of the industry is a good idea”, there was no united front on the way the process was currently being undertaken.

It was a question on combustible cladding and the Queensland Government's Safer Buildings Program spooking the market that stirred the greatest response, with Mr Bassett’s response of “Thanks for your statement, it’s factually incorrect” setting the tone for the remainder of the interview.  

This remained the go-to phrase for Mr Bassett who made no qualms about being direct in his responses to pointed questions on topics including safety, Minimum Financial Requirements (MFRs) and non-conforming building products.

Mr Bassett held his point and said he did nothing more or less than what the law required but called on the industry to challenge the QBCC if they felt the law was not being upheld.

Mr Bidwell noted the sizeable change faced by the entire industry at the moment and said it was important for the QBCC to be clear on what’s required and the consequences for not conforming.

There was a lot of debate around the recently re-introduced MFRs where four major building companies have fallen foul of the new process and had their licences suspended for a short time.

Given this is the first time in five years that contractors have been required to submit these kinds of financial reports, Mr Bassett was asked by punters and Master Builders whether there was any opportunity for him to provide additional flexibility and work with contractors. This flexibility was specifically requested for those who have demonstrated genuine and continued action to meet the reporting deadline and where there are no red flags in their financials.

However, the Commissioner made no apologies for his tough stance on the issue.

One attendee urged the Commissioner to consider an online calculator to allow industry to determine whether they’re complying. Another requested the QBCC let others in the industry know the pitfalls and traps of those who had lost their licence in recent months as a result of not complying with the MFRs.

Mr Bassett indicated he would consider these suggestions; but he would not concede any grounds to the view the QBCC needed to be more circumspect when announcing licence suspensions to the media.

“When you consider the fallout for those suspended included contracts in breach, subbies at risk, reputational damage and impact on share price, we believe it’s a fair ask,” explained Mr Bidwell.

“We don’t agree with the QBCC’s strategy of making an example of these four companies who were ultimately deemed as meeting the financial requirements and their licence suspension lifted.”

As the event wrapped, the Commissioner declined a gift (a Master Builders spirit level) citing the importance of his integrity. Mr Bidwell quipped that this gift, “would have been something that you can keep people on the level”.

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