On the 29th of November The Age newspaper reported on the abolition of the Victorian Building Commission and, almost as a footnote, The Architects Registration Board of Victoria (ARBV). Since then speculation and uncertainty has swept the architecture community who are not sure if they should be outraged or optimistic. To get some more substantial answers as to the current situation and what is proposed in the future, I interviewed two of the key individuals who can share unique insight through the offices they hold.
David Sainsbery is the current serving Chair of the Architects Registration Board of Victoria. David became a Board member in November 2011 was elected Chair in November 2012. He has been associated with the Board as an examiner since 1984 and has been involved in National and State Visiting panels to various universities, reviews of academic equivalence with overseas graduates and log book reviews. In addition he is a senior counsellor with the AIA and a couple of months ago became a Director of the Architects Accreditation Council of Australia. (AACA)
First of all a quick disclaimer. In the interest of keeping architects and the public informed in a timely fashion, the following responses were made prior to the ARBV having an opportunity to convene a full board meeting to discuss the ramifications of the situation.
R+BA- What is the ARBV’s position in regards to the recent State Government announcement to merge the ARBV into a new multi-disciplinary body called the Victorian Building Authority?
DS- We have been advised that at this point the announcement is not a ‘fait accompli’, that it is an option being considered. We are concerned of the prospect and the structure that might emerge.
We are keen to maintain the independence and integrity of the ARBV and the registered architects in Victoria. This number is now close to 4000 registered architects.
The Board will be happy to engage in consultation and to consider structural alternatives so long as there is seen to be positive benefit to all parties.
R+BA- The Victorian Planning Minister has informed the Australian Institute of Architects (AIA) that detailed consultations with the AIA and ARBV will be taking place. What is the current status of these detailed consultations with the government and what has been decided?
DS-The detailed consultation has yet to occur and we have been advised that this will not happen until late January/early February 2013.
R+BA- Can you shed any light on what will happen to the Architects Act?
DS- To date we have been advised that the Architects Act will be retained but with some amendment.
R+BA- What current aspects of the ARBV’s function are you most concerned about under a future VBA regime?
DS- There is a significant numbers of activities currently undertaken by the Board. As stated above I believe that first and foremost, is the need to maintain the independence and integrity of the term, registered architect. Assessment/evaluation of courses in architecture, the process for registration of new candidates, maintaining the register of individuals and companies/partnerships, and providing the public with a support body to deal with consumer complaints are all fundamental activities that must be maintained.
The ARBV regularly collaborates with the AIA and the AACA on a range of activities across Australia. The current working relationship is good. It relies on commitment and good will from many people and we are very keen not to lose this support.
R+BA- The announcement seems to have taken the architecture community completely by surprise. What do you make of the approach the government has taken in terms of keeping architects in the dark?
DS- We are not sure whether the approach was deliberate or an oversight. Unfortunately the approach sets any consideration of a new arrangement off to a bad start. Some detailed assessment and discussion prior to the announcement would have been far preferable.
R+BA- Do you see this as a step towards reduced or even de-regulation of architects?
DS- I don’t believe they have any intention of deregulation. They say that they would like us to be more involved in a new building authority and that we have much to offer. In many respect they seem to be saying that it would be the behind the scenes matters that could change and be improved.
R+BA- Recently there has been much media attention regarding alleged mis-management and unprofessional conduct in the Building Commission. The ARBV has had no such controversy. Do you think the proposed merger could tarnish the ARBV’s good reputation?
DS- We have been all aware of the many of the problems at the Building Commission and being included in the announcement does seem to imply that the ARBV has some issues also but this is not the case.
R+BA- Do you think this merger is a done deal, or is it still possible that public pressure or some other intervention could prevent the merger?
DS- I am not sure. I certainly think that we can have a significant involvement in shaping a new building authority and we will continue to push for a similar look ARBV but maybe with some slight/behind the scenes changes in relation to structure, administration and reporting.
Jon Clements is the current serving President of the Victorian Chapter of the Australian Institute of Architects. Jon also has a role in the Building Advisory Council a is a founding partner of Jackson Clements Burrows Pty Ltd
R+BA- When was the institute first made aware that the government was considering changes to the ARBV?
JC- The first we were aware was the article in The Age on November 29
R+BA- What are your most immediate concerns regarding the announcement?
JC- “The most immediate concerns are that the Architects Act is protected and that proper regulation of architects continues under an appropriate structure”. Having said that, there has been nothing in the discussions so far to suggest that the regulatory activities currently undertaken by the ARBV, will not continue to be undertaken following the establishment of the new Victorian Building Authority.
R+BA- Have you had much feedback from architects regarding their views?
JC- Yes there has been considerable feedback from members. Much of this reaction has come about from the initial media releases which were insufficient in detail.
The institute will continue to listen to this feedback and advocate for the members in the ensuing consultation process, which will start in January 2013.
R+BA- Do you think the role or functions of the AIA will have to be increased to compensate for a reduced scope of the Victorian Building Authority?
JC- No, the institute has been given every indication that the functions currently undertaken by the ARBV will continue under the new body.
R+BA- Do you think that this change will affect the public’s perception of architects?
JC- No the initial media releases from the minister for planning were unclear with respect to the future of the ARBV. However we are optimistic that there are opportunities for the elevation of the architect within the proposed restructure.
“It is fair to say that under the current government leadership, noting that the Premier is himself an architect and an Institute member, that it is highly unlikely that we will see any diminishment of the role of the architect in the building industry”
Thank-you to both David and John for their time in preparing their responses. Thanks also to Shelley Penn and Alison Ivey for their assistance with this report.
In conclusion it seems there is much yet to be confirmed during consultation over the early months of 2013. What does seem clear however is that the communications from the Minister for Planning, particularly in the first instance, were insufficient and raised significant alarm.
It is my personal view that the importance of the ARBV and its excellent history warrant its continued existence. One should not lightly close down or restructure a successful and functional regulatory body. As the saying goes, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. A strong architecture industry, backed by strong regulation is good for us all.
Architecture is for everyone.