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Wednesday, 31 October 2012
Page: 12883

Mr HAWKE (Mitchell) (19:00): I rise tonight to speak on the very important issue of homeownership following a visit from a constituent of mine, Howard Ryan, who has written to me and visited me on many occasions. I come from an electorate with one of the highest proportions of families in Australia and a vibrant building industry. My electorate is home to Homeworld, at Kellyville, and it is one of the fastest-growing sections of Sydney. Homeownership and building are one of the great Australian dreams that we see realised every day in my electorate. Homeownership is an aspiration, but especially in my electorate, with first home owners and new families buying in housing developments in and around north-western Sydney, we find that the regulatory standards for building are not keeping pace with development.

Howard Ryan is a small business owner in my local community who specialises in property inspection and how to best guard properties against what he describes as the 'deadly effects affecting Australian properties'. He has put together a document on what he sees as the seven deadly effects affecting Australian properties today: asbestos; gas and carbon monoxide; termites, wood decay and mould; plumbing and electrical; site drainage; swimming pool fence safety; and strata insolvency. Without going into the detail today, obviously a national occupational licensing project is an essential component of moving forward in this area in Australia.

Howard Ryan has a book of stunning examples of things that go hideously wrong in this area and produce great pain for Australian families. I will quickly read out some examples. He cites an elderly couple with a house in Bellevue Hill who found out they would suffer $300,000 in legal fees due to a Supreme Court claim against the pest and building inspector. That claim was for over $1 million. The matter ended up being settled with the insurers for around $600,000 after 2½ years. A couple in Penrith who used one of the cheaper alternative property inspectors ended up paying over $80,000 in legal costs and having a claim in court for over $150,000—and that is still not settled. A young couple who moved to Menai obtained a pest and building inspection from an inspector who was referred to them by their conveyancer. The conveyancer read the report and told the purchasers that all was okay. Twelve months later, when the couple decided to do some renovations, they found over $200,000 in termite damage. The damage was mentioned in the reports, but the conveyancer failed to identify this fact and the couple bought the property. So far, two years later, they have spent over $100,000 in legal costs and the matter is continuing. And the examples go on and on and on.

In 2006, Howard Ryan started the Pre-Purchase Inspectors National Registry to allow prospective homeowners pea ce of mind when they have a house inspected before purchase. He has a great business where he now trains people in pest and building inspection to ensure that they are properly trained and qualified. However, a national occupational licensing scheme would enhance what is going on here—not just from Howard's private building perspective but in the sense that we need to do something to address this critical problem which is impacting on so many families in Australia. Some people would say this is a matter for the offices of fair trading in the states. But one of the challenges is that, with different state regulations and different state schemes, it is hard to ensure a consistent standard across the states for trainers to ensure that pest and building inspections are done properly and indeed that the building standards are written properly. So Howard is of course a great advocate of the COAG process and the national occupational licensing scheme, a project which has been underway for some time now.

With the brief for the Minister for Fair Trading in New South Wales, it is encouraging to see that New South Wales is now considering, through COAG, a national occupational licensing system task force, ensuring that they do move on this in a reasonable time frame. Given that the seven deadly dangers that Howard has identified can affect anybody, it is vital that we do something in Australia today to ensure there are proper and sound standards for homebuyers so that they can purchase a property sound in the knowledge that it is not affected by one of those seven areas.

I am certainly a big supporter of this. Aussie Home Loans director John Symond said in the Daily Telegraph in 2011 that the vendor of a property should be required to obtain a pest and building inspection before the property can be listed for sale. That is a suggestion for one reform that could make a big impact. In the same article, Rapid Solutions, a major supplier of professional indemnity insurance, stated that upwards of 30 per cent of those completing these inspections are uninsured. There definitely is a need for higher standards in this industry. It is something that affects homeowners around the country. The lack of professional standards and training and proper accountability for this vital area affects all homeowners and potential homeowners. I thank Howard for the work he has done in bringing this issue to the fore. I encourage COAG to continue this process quickly so that we can get to a better standard in Australia today.