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28 June 2021

The Case for Trans-Tasman Building Regulation

AU NZ

Over my career I have had significant involvement with Australia in railway, defence, professional engineering and building sectors. In each of those sectors there has been or is considerable benefit from taking a collaborative approach to issues. While we may disagree on some issues, fundamentally what unites us is far stronger than what divides us; economically, culturally and politically. However, my other observation is that collaboration does not come easy. It can be derailed by individuals in positions of influence who simply take a nationalistic approach and for a variety of reasons either oppose collaboration or in some cases actively sabotage it.

When it comes to the building and construction sector, I think we have an even stronger case for collaboration. It is occurring economically — we generally have a Trans-Tasman market in building products or many products are sourced internationally but are used in both countries. Similarly on the services side, many of our professional engineers and architects are in Australasian companies or provide services to Australian clients.

This collaboration should in my view be taken one step further with the development of a long-term programme to unify as much as possible our building regulatory systems. While I would not expect to see the completion in my lifetime we need to start somewhere.

Unfortunately, the opportunity to make a start was lost in the last few months with both countries consulting on building compliance regulation. While both had similar constructs (the NZ product assurance framework and the concept of product technical statements), integration of product regulation does not appear to have been a policy objective. I am not sure why that was. The more likely reasons are that no one was asking for it or it wasn’t thought of. What we will probably end up with are two systems which are similar but not interchangeable and therefore add to additional compliance burdens for those that sell to both sides of the Tasman.

I think there is a natural hierarchy of an integration programme. The starting point is with the products and building code. These are done at a national level in Australia so the influence of the individual states is not as significant (although they all sit around the Australian Building Codes Board). We both have performance-based codes and often reference the same Standards so there is a good platform. And yes, our environmental conditions are different but they are also different between Tasmania and Northern Territories and they both share the same code. Same thing in New Zealand, we use similar tools such as zoning to reflect different environmental conditions to achieve similar outcomes throughout the country.

Professional and trades regulation is probably the next in the hierarchy although there will be some head winds from the influence of some of the unions in Australia as well as the local state jurisdictions. Most building projects in Australia have New Zealanders in the design and construction stages without problems (and vice versa). So fundamentally there is no reason why it can’t be done. Following this, integration or at least alignment of the Building Acts is next but that is likely to be the next generation's or even the one after that’s achievement as political forces will make the head wind a hurricane. But again, fundamentally there is no reason why it can’t be done.

I think the business case is sound, we are integrated now (to the benefit of both economies) but that integration has greater compliance costs (generally double as limited mutual recognition). But it won’t happen without the sector arguing for it — let’s start putting the case forward and not let another opportunity pass by as happened in the last few weeks, and also not let dominating personalities derail things.

Through Building Confidence Ltd, I provide building regulatory advice on matters relating to the requirements of the NZ Building Act including its regulations like The Building Code and associated documents — such as acceptable solutions and verification methods.

Visit www.buildingconfidence.nz or contact me on john@buildingconfidence.nz to learn more.

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