I lead for the Opposition in debate on the Building and Other Fair Trading Legislation Amendment Bill 2022. I say from the outset that Labor does not oppose the bill. As many members know, Labor has strongly supported regulation in the building industry and the clarification and expansion of powers to the New South Wales building regulator, being Fair Trading and the office of the NSW Building Commissioner. I applaud the Minister's swift action to introduce legislation implementing additional reforms proposed by the Building Commissioner, David Chandler. I take this opportunity to thank Mr Chandler for all the work that he has done and that he will continue to do.
We have a different landscape than we had seven years ago, when I started working with the then Minister on building reforms. Every subsequent Minister who has had this role has worked very hard to ensure that we have significantly improved the standards in this State. Again I thank the Minister for Customer Service and Digital Government for continuing that great work.
This bill will amend several Acts, including the Design and Building Practitioners Act 2020, the Explosives Act 2003, the Land and Environment Court Act 1979, the Residential Apartment Buildings (Compliance and Enforcement Powers) Act 2020, and the Strata Schemes Management Act 2015. Turning to the contents of the bill, I will start firstly with the amendments to the Design and Building Practitioners Act 2020. The amendments will require the secretary of the Department of Customer Service to keep and publish a register of all stop work orders in force under the Act. The details of these orders will be made publicly available on the department's website. I must say that the transparency around this industry is significantly important and these are very good amendments. Further, the secretary may include copies of written undertakings accepted under section 88 of the Act. Registered practitioners can provide the secretary with a written undertaking which includes the details of how they will prepare regulated designs, engineering work or compliance declarations.
The amendments to the Explosives Act 2003 will increase the maximum penalties for explosive offences. These include offences for handling explosives or explosive precursors without the required licence, or holding a security clearance that is in force. This also includes increased maximum penalties for those who negligently handle explosives or explosive precursors that endanger the life of, or cause injury to, other persons, or to damage property or any belongings, and the supply of any explosive to someone under the age of 18 years. This bill also will increase the maximum penalties for obstructing or intimidating inspectors and the unlawful disclosure of information. The bill also empowers the Minister to make regulations to introduce the registration of explosives, including where they are kept and where they are published; safety and security measures relating to storage; the transport of explosives, including by regulating, restricting or prohibiting the transport of explosives in particular areas; and the functions and powers of inspectors, including giving directions and requesting access to documents.
The Department of Customer Service undertook a statutory review of the Explosives Act 2003, which was finalised around October 2019. The consultation was limited and SafeWork did not appear to put in a submission. Consultation included the NSW Minerals Council, the Australian Explosives Industry Safety Group, the Pyrotechnics Industry Association of Australia, and the Sporting Shooters Association of Australia. The Government has sat on the review for the better part of three years, knowing that the existing legislation does not adequately protect workers who deal with explosives. In the meantime, as raised by the member for Canterbury in a letter to the Auditor-General, serious work health and safety breaches were not being properly followed up by SafeWork with onsite inspections leading to an audit by SafeWork. I note the presence in the Chamber of the member for Canterbury, whom I thank for the insightful information she has provided.
The review identified the need to increase the maximum penalties under the Act, which have not changed since its introduction in 2003. The proposed changes will see maximum penalties increased in accordance with the change in the consumer price index. It is important that the offences in the Act continue to strongly deter the unsafe and illegal use of explosives to protect those who work with them and the wider community. The bill will amend section 27 to extend certain provisions of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 relating to inspectors and enforcement of this Act. Whilst omitting "Section 155 and Part 9 (Securing compliance), other than section 187, of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 applies" from section 27 (1), in its place, the bill inserts instead, "The Work Health and Safety Act 2011, Part 8, Division 2 and Part 9, other than section 187, apply". The amendment updates the Explosives Act to allow inspectors under the Act to use the section 155 powers that work health and safety inspectors have under section 155A of the Work Health and Safety Act, giving them extraterritorial information-gathering powers.
Again, I commend this bill to the House because transparency is critical when we are dealing with such important matters. Section 155A clarifies that inspectors can exercise their information-gathering power in section 155 outside New South Wales. A work health ad safety inspector can serve a notice on a person requiring them to give information, produce documents, or appear to give evidence, even if the person is outside New South Wales, or the relevant matter occurs or is located outside New South Wales as long as the matter relates to the administration of the Work Health and Safety Act. Investigations under both Acts can be hampered by the lack of a clear power to require the production of documents outside New South Wales during an investigation. The explosives and pyrotechnics industries are national industries in which individuals and corporations operate across New South Wales.
I will now move on to the Land and Environment Court Act 1979. This bill will amend the Act to correct a reference to a provision in the Design and Building Practitioners Act 2020. Under the "environmental planning and protection, development contract and strata renewal plan" heading, the bill removes section 84 from section 20 (1) (de) and replaces it with section 91. The bill also includes several amendments to the Residential Apartment Buildings (Compliance and Enforcement Powers) Act 2020. This includes amending section 7 to increase the maximum penalties for developers who fail to provide an expected completion notice to the secretary. An expected completion notice sets out the date the developer expects to make an application for an occupation certificate for a building. For corporations, the maximum penalty will increase from $110,000 to $330,000, with the continuing daily offence increased from $11,000 to $33,000. For individuals the maximum penalty will increase from $22,000 to $110,000, with the continuing daily offence increased from $2,200 to $11,000.
Section 33 will be amended to clarify that a building work rectification order can require the developer to carry out building work to eliminate, remediate or minimise a serious building defect. Section 34 specifies the standard that building work is required to meet. As part of this, developers will be required to engage a suitably qualified person to prepare a report on how the standard was met. The report will include particulars of the building work undertaken. Section 62 introduces more stringent registering of building compliance orders and undertakings. The secretary of the Department of Customer Service must keep publicly available copies of all prohibition orders, building work rectification orders and stop work orders in force. In addition to this, the secretary will use this discretion to include copies of written undertakings. Section 65 allows information held by the Department of Customer Service to be shared with New South Wales local councils.
Sections 28, 33, 34 and 62 of the Act will be amended or substituted by the Building and Other Fair Trading Legislation Amendment Bill 2022 to apply retrospectively. Among the bills being amended is the Strata Schemes Management Act 2015 to provide decennial insurance. I must say that this is so critically important. I note that the Minister spoke of this at some length during his second reading speech. I concur with the Minister completely. Decennial insurance is effective and maintained to cover any potential costs incurred by an owner in the event of a building collapsing or containing structural defects that affect its stability . Decennial insurance can be obtained by a developer of a strata plan. It is strict liability cover that protects successive building owners against serious building defects in the common property of a building for 10 years from the completion of the building.
This insurance offers an alternative option to the strata building bond, which requires a developer to pay 2 per cent of the total price paid to the New South Wales Government. Building bonds apply to new apartment buildings of at least four storeys. Decennial insurance will provide potential apartment buyers with the certainty of cover for up to 10 years. For example, had it been legislated at the time, it would have provided cover for the residents of Mascot Towers. Unfortunately, this insurance is not retrospective. Although I understand that, it is very sad for those people in Mascot Towers. I acknowledge the member for Tamworth, who was one of the predecessors of this Minister, and state for the record that he was an excellent building Minister and we also did a lot of work together. This insurance represents a very good change and it is something that I know the Owners Corporation was asking for. It is most pleased that the Government has taken us down this path.
Finally, the bill amends the Subordinate Legislation Act 1989 to postpone the repeal of the Explosives Regulation 2013, which is due by September 2023 to September 2024. Again, I thank the Minister and his staff. They are always incredibly cooperative. I know that the shadow Minister for Better Regulation and Innovation, the Hon. Courtney Houssos, shares my view on that. I also thank the shadow Minister. Like me, she has a deep passion for ensuring that the biggest purchase in a person's life is the home that they live in—it certainly was mine. It is therefore critical that the State regulator puts in place mechanisms that ensure that we have safe buildings. I commend the bill to the House.
Ms SOPHIE COTSIS (Canterbury) (00:40): I speak to the Building and Other Fair Trading Legislation Amendment Bill 2022. I acknowledge the shadow Minister for Better Regulation and Innovation, the shadow Minister for Customer Service and the shadow Attorney General. My comments are relevant to the SafeWork NSW aspect of the bill, which amends the Explosives Act 2003. The bill updates regulations that assist inspectors under the Act with investigations by allowing access to records about explosives use in other States, as is currently available to SafeWork NSW inspectors under section 155 of the Work Health and Safety Act, and increases maximum penalties for explosives offences. The Opposition supports these amendments. Having said that, my office has made inquiries about the regulations, particularly around the registration, storage and transport of explosives. I ask the Minister to provide us with additional information about the regulations. Once this bill goes to the upper House, the Opposition would like that information.
A number of unions have concerns, whether about the transportation or the storage. I had a meeting with the Fire Brigade Employees' Union. The Opposition would like further information around those concerns. I note that the Explosives Act's objective is the protection of workers and the public from harm that may arise from the unsafe or illegal use of explosives, as well as the protection of property. The amendments follow a statutory review of the Act undertaken by the Department of Customer Service that was finalised around October 2019. I am not privy to how stakeholders were notified that the review was occurring, but it appears to have been limited. If the Minister can advise me, I will happily be corrected on that.
I note that the Explosives Act is relevant to a wide range of industries, including demolition, mining, agriculture, policing, pyrotechnics and transport. SafeWork NSW licenses individuals and corporations to handle explosives in these industries. As the regulatory authority that is chiefly responsible for administering and enforcing the Act, SafeWork NSW may grant licences and security clearances. Responsibility for enforcing the Act is shared between SafeWork NSW and the NSW Resources Regulator. The police commissioner also plays an important role in administering the Act by providing reports on the suitability of applicants for security clearances and licences to SafeWork NSW.
With respect to the regulatory issues around inspectors, the statutory review recommended that inspectors under the Act are given the same extraterritorial information-gathering powers that work health and safety inspectors have under section 155A and 155B of the Work Health and Safety Act. This is important because the explosives and pyrotechnics industries operate across Australia. It allows an inspector to serve a notice on a person outside of New South Wales that requires them to give information, produce documents or appear to give evidence, as long as the matter relates to the administration of the Work Health and Safety Act. I have a question for the Minister, and if he cannot answer it in his reply speech, I am happy to discuss it. It is about the extraterritorial information-gathering powers. How will the process of gathering information work in other jurisdictions? I understand that the information-gathering powers are expanding, but how will it work when going into Queensland and South Australia et cetera? I want some more information and a better understanding about that aspect.
This amendment also allows for SafeWork NSW inspectors to serve a notice electronically, at a person's place of residence or at their workplace. On the whole, there are good regulations in New South Wales from the model work health and safety regulations, and these amendments are important. The issue for inspectors is that there is a clear problem with the implementation of the regulations. There is a massive turnover of work health and safety inspectors, and I would like those who are at SafeWork NSW to know that I am supportive of the work that they do. They do great work, and they have a very strong Act. I am going to be political on this point: The problem is this Coalition Government's approach to the independence of the safety regulator. The regulator is in the corner of a mega-department. As a statutory authority it should stand alone, provide the resources and listen to what inspectors have to say. I put on the record that I believe that the inspectors are playing an important role but, as a whole, the ideology of this Government is limiting their capacity to execute and do their work to ensure that the people of New South Wales are safe at their workplaces.
As I said, there is a massive turnover of inspectors, with 26 leaving in this year alone. There are 342 inspector roles filled out of 370 positions, and that is after a massive and continuing recruitment drive. There are nine vacancies for assistant State inspectors. There is evidence that requests from inspectors for investigations and prosecutions have been ignored. Anyone who read Adele Ferguson's important report last Friday will know what I am talking about. This is a regulator that is missing in action, and that falls at the feet of the Government. I have a lot more to say on that. There are notifications of serious workplace incidents and calls for help from the public that are not being followed up with an onsite inspection. The Work Health and Safety Act relies on those inspections occurring. This is serious, and things need to change. It is going to take more than an Auditor-General audit.
As I stated inThe Sydney Morning Herald, a number of these issues have been raised with me. I have written to the Auditor-General, who is going to conduct a performance audit. For 18 months now the Opposition has been calling on the Government to listen to recommendation 49 of former Supreme Court Judge McDougall that says independent oversight is both powerful and instructive. Sunlight is the best disinfectant. The Government should heed the advice of former Supreme Court Judge McDougall and hold a review into SafeWork NSW. The highest penalty for offences against the Explosives Act is $2,500. The penalties have not been updated since 2003. That is not good enough. I am happy to be corrected. There is a need to increase the maximum penalties under the Act, which have not changed since its introduction. The Minister notes that the proposed changes will see maximum penalties increased by up to 50 per cent, in accordance with consumer price index rates. He also said:
It is important that the offences in the Act continue to strongly deter the unsafe and illegal use of explosives to protect those who work with them and the wider community.
I am interested in how the Minister has determined this. If there is one recurring theme in New South Wales, it is that the penalties for work health and safety do not generally reflect the seriousness of the offences. If businesses that are notorious for poor workplace practices think that they can get away with it—that there are no consequences; that no-one is watching—they will continue to put people's lives at risk, and that is what we have seen over the last many years under this Government.
I make one further point. I note in the consultation for the statutory review the NSW Police Force advocated that the Act should make provision for the regulation to prescribe certain offences as mandatory disqualifying offences for holding a licence or security clearance. This was not upheld, leaving it open to the discretion of SafeWork NSW to consider a person's previous convictions in the context of all of the factors relevant to granting a licence or security clearance. The review is mindful that maintaining a discretionary approach to criminal convictions imposes a greater burden on the government agencies responsible for administering the Act, in this case SafeWork NSW and the police. I am interested in what discussions the Government has had around licensing, because what is very clear to those on this side of the House is that SafeWork is in no position to take on any more burdens. I would like a response to that.