National licencing needs industry-led regulations and training

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The National Licencing scheme for plumbing has become a hot topic once again. The Australian Building Codes Board has released a discussion paper on a National Registration Framework for building practitioners, and the Federal Treasurer wants to introduce a new national occupational licensing scheme (including plumbing) across Australia from January 2021.

National licencing needs industry-led regulations and training

Master Plumbers has long argued for greater consistency and uniformity for plumbing occupations across Australia. So, we support these initiatives.

But it is with a sense of déjà vu, we reiterate that any national licensing or registration scheme cannot become a ‘race to the bottom’. There are inevitable risks to the safety and protection of the community if changes are not implemented thoughtfully and in consultation with our industry.

While we acknowledge that the current mutual recognition between states and arrangements for those who work on both sides of a border could be improved, primarily through better communication between jurisdictional regulators, we do not accept that means throwing open the borders without the requisite regulatory oversight.

Training and licencing regimes across Australia’s states and territories are inconsistent and this means the competencies of licence holders vary greatly between jurisdictions. Although our various licensing systems protect the health and safety of the people within each jurisdiction, they are often incompatible with each other. For example, in Victoria, plumbers work under a system of self-certification, a requirement to lodge certificates and hold appropriate insurance cover. This differs to other states and territories, especially those that work under a mandatory inspection process. And in terms of coverage, few jurisdictions have Roofing and Mechanical Services plumbing within their scope of plumbing work as is the case in Victoria.

It is imperative that we have a better model than currently exists. There are licensed plumbers who need to hold an individual License in every state of Australia and New Zealand - and must pay license fees each year to each regulator. This does not make sense.

The ABCB proposal is examining design aspects of the building industry, including plumbing design. Licenced plumbers generally hold requisite qualifications and experience to carry out most of the plumbing design that they are likely to encounter and Master Plumbers continues to strongly oppose any change which would remove their capacity to do this. In more complex plumbing systems, there is an increasing need for plumbers and designers to have a higher level of design knowledge and experience than they currently hold and this must also be thought through in any changes.

We maintain that although reducing red tape to simplify business operations and improve labour-force mobility may seem attractive to some, it should never be undertaken in a way that comprises public safeguards.


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