Michelle Lensink

Unlicensed Building Contractors

I seek leave to make a brief explanation before asking the Minister for Consumer Affairs a question about OCBA warning practices for unlicensed building contractors.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: OCBA media releases have referred to several cases of unlicensed contractors who have been issued with—

Members interjecting:

The PRESIDENT: Order! The Hon. Ms Lensink, you might want to start again.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: Okay, I will start again. OCBA media releases have referred to matters that OCBA has taken up with unlicensed building contractors. I refer specifically to a Mr Dean Harper who was issued with a formal warning against operating unlicensed in 2004, in which he was advised that, if he continued to breach the law, then further action would be taken. Subsequently, in this year, the Magistrates Court has found him guilty of contracting for building and plumbing work without appropriate licences.

A Mr Higgins, who repeatedly ignored warnings relating to noncompliant gas fitting work, continued to perform such work without appropriate training and so forth. Subsequently, after repeated offences, the individual was convicted and fined by the Magistrates Court. My questions for the minister are: on what basis does OCBA issue warnings to individuals undertaking activities defined within their occupational licensing statute without a licence, and how many warnings have been issued in the current financial year?

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) (14:25): I thank the honourable member for her most important question. I have some figures here, which I am happy to share. Indeed, OCBA's primary policy is primary intervention, if you like, and prevention. They do that through education and information to the industry, both in terms of consumers' rights and traders' and businesses' responsibilities. So, that is their first goal, to try to prevent problems beginning in the first place.

They have a range of different powers depending on the different levels of breaches, but OCBA certainly strives to attempt to draw problems to the attention of traders or businesses in the early stages, to use that as an opportunity to inform and make people aware of their responsibilities and give them a chance to improve and change their practices so that they are in full compliance. So, they have a position where they have adopted a policy of warning offenders, particularly in the first instance, and expiating reoffenders where, obviously, there is enough evidence to determine that they are in breach of a provision.

They do their job in a very responsible way, as I said, with the primary focus on trying to ensure that, in the first instance, problems that end up being costly to consumers, costly to businesses and costly to government are avoided. Of course, the government's costs are really the taxpayers' costs, so they focus very strongly on that information, education and early intervention, so to speak.

In terms of building contractors, I have been advised that, in the period 2009-10, there were 688 written warning letters; 136 written undertakings obtained where specific actions, I understand, were agreed to; six assurances given; seven prosecutorial court disciplinary actions; matters with the crown prosecution, 27; and matters under formal investigation, 73.

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