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Monday, 26 March 2018
Page: 2751

Mr CHRISTENSEN (Dawson) (19:55): Exactly one year ago today, Cyclone Debbie was officially named as a tropical cyclone, and families in North Queensland began evacuating their homes ahead of it crossing the coast. While North Queenslanders are well prepared for these disasters, as evidenced by the fact that no lives were lost, it can be a frightening and traumatic experience when a category 4 cyclone crosses the coast in a highly populated area. I would like to take the time here to acknowledge those in the Top End and around the Gulf of Carpentaria who have lived through this experience in recent days. I wish them the best of luck for their safety and in their recovery.

But, for many businesses and families in Mackay, Bowen, Proserpine and the Whitsundays, the recovery process has been more difficult and more traumatic than Cyclone Debbie itself. We have businesses and homeowners still finalising their scopes of work, and one of the common reasons for long delays has stemmed from building inspections and engineering reports from people who are not qualified nor able to perform that task. In more than one instance, a tradie was sent to conduct an engineering report. One property owner knew they were in for a rough ride when the 'engineer' couldn't tell if the structure was made of concrete or fibreglass.

In another case, an insurance company twice sent qualified engineers to produce engineering reports on a damaged property but they rejected both of them. They then sent a third inspector in, who I've been informed was not an engineer but another tradie. The insurance company accepted that report because it was the only one of the three that said the damage was not caused by the cyclone. The property owner brought in a third qualified engineer, and the resulting report concurred with the original qualified engineer's report. Eventually, the insurance company increased their payout offer almost tenfold.

I have received reports of engineering companies passing off the work of non-qualified and/or non-accredited staff as being the work of a qualified and accredited engineer. According to section 115 of the Professional Engineers Act 2002, an engineer must be registered with the Board of Professional Engineers of Queensland in order to complete engineering services in Queensland. The Courier-Mail, on 6 March, reported that at least three of the state's top insurance companies have been using a building firm that was unlicensed in Queensland and employed unlicensed building consultants. In December, the Queensland Building and Construction Commission censured US based multinational Crawford & Company for operating without a licence.

The QBCC confirmed that scopes of work form part of the building process, which requires the appropriate licences. The report stated that Crawford subcontracted CRD Building Consultants & Engineers to produce scopes of work. Although presented as different entities, CRD is a wholly owned subsidiary, and both Crawfords and CRD use the same Australian company number and the same Australian business number, raising further questions about a breach of the Corporations Act. My fear is that in the rush to process claims and get reconstruction work completed, some corners have been inadvertently, or deliberately, cut. The results for families and businesses making claims are long and costly delays, inaccurate and inadequate scopes of work, protracted arguments over repairs and repairs that are not up to standard.

There is also another matter of breaches to the insurance industry's own code. In relation to standards for suppliers, the Insurance Council's General Code of Insurance Practice says:

We will only appoint Service Suppliers who:

(a) reasonably satisfy us at the time of the appointment that they are, and their employees are, qualified by education, training or experience to provide the required service competently and to deal with you professionally (including but not limited to whether they hold membership with any relevant professional body); and

(b) hold a current licence, if required by law.

From the reports I've received in the wake of Cyclone Debbie and through the recovery process, I believe an investigation is warranted. It appears that insurance companies may have breached their own code, and possibly breached the law. I'll be writing to the Minister for Revenue and Financial Services to request that the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority, or whatever relevant regulatory body might be appropriate, conduct a full investigation into the processing of insurance claims relating to Cyclone Debbie.

Coping with cyclones is a natural part of living in northern Australia. Our resilience, in terms of people and property, is a testament to our preparation and building regulations. The true test of our resilience now is the aftermath. Better preparation and adherence to regulations will help us through this most testing of times.

The SPEAKER: It being 8.00 pm, the House stands adjourned until 12.00 pm tomorrow.

House adjourned at 20 : 00