Building Services Corporation Director of Investigations
BUILDING SERVICES CORPORATION DIRECTOR OF INVESTIGATIONS
Mr AMERY (Mount Druitt) [5.47]: I wish to raise an issue relating to the Building Services Corporation that has come to my attention from a number of sources. I have been advised of what could not better be referred to as a sham relating to the appointment by the Building Services Corporation of a so-called inhouse Ombudsman - or, to use his official title, director of investigations - to investigate its own past investigations. One case involves Maria Vucic of West Pymble. She lodged a complaint with the corporation about a builder and a number of inspections were carried out by a corporation investigator. After numerous unsatisfactory attempts to have the matter resolved, she made representations to the Premier of New South Wales seeking his assistance. The corporation responded to her representations to the Premier by advising, in a letter from Graham Mostyn, General Manager of the Building Services Corporation, that ". . . in response to these representations, Mr Robert Coles, the Building Services Corporation's newly appointed Director of Special Inquiries has been asked to reinvestigate the matters . . . raised".
The irony is that Mr Coles was the original inspector who carried out numerous inspections in this case. One has to ask how the Building Services Corporation can permit an inspector to investigate his own case and expect that the results of that investigation will be unbiased and in the best interests of the owner or the consumer. In another case Mr Brett Piskulich was interviewed by a spokesman from the Building Services Corporation, who told him he was "the inhouse Ombudsman". I believe he is now known as the director of investigations, as I said earlier. Once again, it was a closed shop. This case also involves Mr Coles. My comments are not designed to discredit or attack Mr Coles. He happens to be the person involved in both cases.
I would like to know how the Building Services Corporation can confidently carry out investigations into owner-builder disputes and remain unprejudiced when it appears that former builders are inspecting builders and former inspectors are inspecting inspectors. Earlier this year responsibility for the Building Services Corporation was transferred from the Ministry for Housing to the Ministry for Consumer Affairs. In a statement to this House the Minister has indicated that the Building Services Corporation is to be overhauled. It is hoped that the change in ministry will shift the emphasis of the corporation's operation from licensing to protection of consumers. Undoubtedly the Minister for Consumer Affairs is now familiar with the continuing campaign by the Building Action Review Group, known as BARG, to obtain a better deal for building consumers.
These issues are common with most building disputes, namely, how impartial are the adjudicators? They point out that the requirement that arbitrators have building experience has resulted in many claims of bias. The compulsory arbitration clauses, rigorously enforced in the past, sent many consumers broke trying to settle their grievances, while the lawyers had a field day. I note there has been some progress in that matter. Another matter they raised was that the inadequacy of the Building Disputes Tribunal's previous jurisdictional limit of $10,000 offered little hope to most complainants. I note that in a statement last week the Minister announced an increase in this jurisdictional limit to $25,000, despite Commissioner Dodd's recommendation that the monetary jurisdictional limit be lifted to $50,000.
Now that the Building Services Corporation has been transferred to the Department of Consumer Affairs, I call on the Government and the Minister to revisit the many cases that have caused public discontent with the Building Services Corporation. In the Government's review of the Building Services Corporation operations, I suggest that the BARG Group be extensively consulted in bringing forward an acceptable working model for consumers to get satisfaction from their complaints.
In the meantime, if the Government is genuine in its desire to have past disputes reinvestigated, surely it must start by ending the current practice of having reviews of complaints assessed by the same inspectors, under another name, who conducted the initial inquiry that resulted in the complaint in the first place. Obviously, without casting any aspersions on those inspectors, it must be very difficult for a person with a new senior title to reinvestigate the case that he, in a more junior position, had investigated previously. I ask the Minister to take this matter into account when she continues with her campaign to overhaul the workings of the Building Services Corporation.
Ms MACHIN (Port Macquarie - Minister for Consumer Affairs, Minister Assisting the Minister for Roads, and Minister Assisting the Minister for Transport) [5.52]: I thank the honourable member for Mount Druitt for advising my office of his intention to raise this matter, which is always a constructive approach in dealing with private members' statements. I certainly note the matters he raised with regard to Mrs Vucic, his constituent in West Pymble, and I will obtain further details. I think that perhaps he is misinterpreting the role of the in-house "ombudsman". He is not really an ombudsman, but an in-house person who is reviewing a number of longstanding cases that should not have been on the books for anywhere near the length of time they have.
He is reporting to the general manager, who is keeping me closely informed of the issues and how we can resolve them quickly, including examining issues of compensation where in the past some constituents have been delayed and messed around by the BSC and it can be proved to be the fault of the BSC. We are really trying to review those cases, to get a fair deal where it is deserved. It is not a case of the investigator investigating his previous investigation. I have met with BARG in the past few weeks and have, again, sent them the draft consumer policy we hope to put through the BSC. The draft was originally sent, but BARG did not comment on it, so I have asked them to have another look at it. I have also made the offer to assist in dealing with Mrs Onorati's files. She is an individual trying to deal with a large number of files, so I made the offer for her to provide me with that information and we will keep a tab on it.
The Government is moving away from compulsory arbitration, and in fact would like to ditch it entirely. The honourable member will have a chance to examine some of these proposals, hopefully in the next few weeks and months. As he acknowledged, the Government has lifted the jurisdiction of the Building Disputes Tribunal to $25,000. The reason for not lifting it to $50,000 is that the other part of the recommendation was that there be two referees sitting together, and we want to review the referees before taking that next step. [Time expired.]