Consumer And Business Affairs Office

05 May 2011 questionsarchive

I seek leave to make a brief explanation before asking the Minister for Consumer Affairs a question about red tape.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: The Liberal Party has received letters from several frustrated individuals who are finding themselves caught in OCBA's red tape, particularly in the processing of building work contractors' licences taking up to 10 to 12 weeks. As a result of these exceptionally long hold-ups, the cost of renovations is increasing for the consumer, and the creation of jobs in the industry is being prevented.

The minister was quoted recently in relation to the Sogin Corporation case, saying that she had instructed public servants to aim towards a target of between three to five weeks, noting that the current time is unacceptable. My questions to the minister are:

1. For how long have these processing times been taking place?

2. When did the minister instruct her agency to aim for the three to five week turnaround?

3. What work is she going to review the efficiencies of OCBA's processes?

The Hon. G.E. GAGO (Minister for Regional Development, Minister for Public Sector Management, Minister for the Status of Women, Minister for Consumer Affairs, Minister for Government Enterprises, Minister for Gambling) (14:26): I thank the honourable member for her questions. Indeed, the OCBA licensing laws are put in place to ensure that building work contractors meet a number of particular requirements in respect to solvency, business experience, technical skills and experience, supervision of work and also fitness and propriety to conduct business, such as police clearances currently require. The law is also there to help ensure that home building work is performed to an appropriate standard and also that unfair practices are minimised.

There is a range of different provisions that are put in place to protect consumers and also ensure particular standards are met. A person must be licensed as a building work contractor if they carry on the business of performing building work for others or performing building work with a view to sell or let land or buildings improved by that particular work. Every building work contractor must have a registered building work supervisor to properly supervise their building work and to ensure that it meets required standards.

Applicants must provide originals or certified copies of all relevant trade and technical qualifications, a detailed work history and, if possible, two written work references from licensed builders or other building professionals whom they have worked with recently and then, on receipt of that documentation, an assessment is required to be made as to whether or not to interview that person to assess their technical knowledge. I am advised that most processes do proceed to the interview stage. I am advised that OCBA receives well over 66,000 licence applicants annually, and a substantial number of these are building licence applications.

To assist in dealing with the high volume of applications and improve processes, OCBA has recently implemented strategies to reduce unnecessary red tape, and these have been in place for a number of months, so I am advised. These include things like amending the financial assessment criteria. This will simplify the requirements so that applicants can more easily satisfy OCBA that they have sufficient financial resources to undertake their work so that they are not a high solvency risk, rather than requiring full financial assessment to be undertaken.

That is an area where improvements have been put in place. It also includes simplifying the process for establishing business knowledge. Applicants must now complete an improved business course or seek recognition of prior learning from a training provider. Unfortunately, that can sometimes take some time where it is unclear about the accreditation of courses or work that they may have done, not only interstate but also overseas. Another strategy is introducing a simplified re-application process to cancel licences, which will enable straightforward applications to be processed quickly.

As announced some time ago, Consumer Affairs and Liquor Licensing are going through a merger process at the moment to form a consumer business service. The merged agency will create a critical mass of staffing levels, which will be able to move resources to areas of highest need while not diminishing provisions of services in other areas. Part of that merger process includes a process of improving a review to identify efficiencies and synergies in functions. Occupational licensing will form a significant part of that process improvement review to identify opportunities to reduce waiting times for applicants. In light of these changes, it is anticipated that waiting times should be no more than five weeks. Hopefully, we aim to have that backlog reduced by somewhere between July and September this year.

I was quite surprised to see the claim by the Hon. Iain Evans, I think it was, that, under the Liberal government, they were processing building applications in 10 days. The data we keep in OCBA clearly shows that that was not the case. Back in 2002, the majority of building applications were taking somewhere between three and likely up to five weeks to be processed. So, it is an absolute nonsense to say that, under the Liberal government, they were processing these building applications in 10 days. Data does not support that. So, we have checked that.

A number of months ago, I became aware of a backlog in our processing. I met with the agency, and we have continued to meet and have put in place a number of steps to improve that and to set a goal of reducing that backlog of applicants within the next few months.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK (14:32): I have a supplementary question. Can the minister advise whether there is a streamlined process for someone who already holds some form of OCBA registration, such as in the case which was mentioned in the newspaper, that is, the case of Robert Rollison, who has held a building work licence since 2004.

The Hon. G.E. GAGO (Minister for Regional Development, Minister for Public Sector Management, Minister for the Status of Women, Minister for Consumer Affairs, Minister for Government Enterprises, Minister for Gambling) (14:33): As I have outlined, these are technical matters. There are a number of considerations that each applicant undergoes to ensure that they meet solvency, probity and skills standards. It is dealt with on a case-by-case basis. I am not a technical expert. It would be incredibly irresponsible of me to making assessments of whether or not someone is eligible to hold a building licence; that is the responsibility of those people in the agency who have the technical expertise.

The gentleman wrote to me, and I am aware that there was what seemed to be a most unreasonable delay in the processing of his application, and I have asked the agency to look at that carefully and to expedite that, where possible.