March 29, 2018  |  Second reading

Engineers Registration Bill 2018

Mr Howard (Buninyong) (16:45:25) — I am very pleased to speak on this bill, which, as we understand, sets in place a system of registration for engineers. It somewhat amazes me that we are debating a bill like this at this time, because I would have expected — and most Victorians I think would have expected — that our engineers, or anybody who is in the engineering field, would be already registered. It is somewhat stunning to hear from the opposition their opposition to this bill.

As a commitment before the last election we said that we thought engineers, in line with nearly every other profession across this state, should be registered with an appropriate body so that people could always be confident of their credentials and their experience and so that there was a system in place whereby if people did the wrong thing in their profession, there was a way that they could be either deregistered or disciplined. It would ensure that we always have the best quality of work.

Of course our construction industry is very important to us. We are not just talking about physical construction; we are talking about electrical safety engineers and so on, who are all important in this area. The government, rather than establishing a separate body to undertake all registrations and to oversee registrations, is recognising the professional bodies that already exist. Rather than having the cost of establishing a brand-new registration body, we have said that we are happy to work in an arrangement with the professional bodies out there — Engineers Australia and Professionals Australia, who are supportive of this legislation and who have been registering engineers for some time. In working in conjunction with them we are not putting extra costs into the system. We are working on a system similar to the one that has been, as we have heard, put in place in Queensland, which is a soft-touch approach, as we have described it. We are not starting something entirely new; we are working with what is there.

I also point out that the opposition seems to suddenly be concerned that the two major professional bodies are getting an advantage. I note this is something that has been reflected amongst the engineers in my electorate too. They are a little bit concerned that maybe Engineers Australia’s central administration might become too administrative and too cumbersome and not work in the best interests of engineers, but they recognise that they are professional bodies and they want to support professional development. It is a matter of getting the balance right. However, it is amazing to hear the opposition saying how dreadful it is that we are involving the two major professional bodies for engineers in this process. Engineers Australia will be a bit stunned by this too, because it was not so long ago that they wrote to the shadow Treasurer to thank him for the opportunity to comment on the proposed bill. They also wanted to thank him for running a recent round table, where the Leader of the Opposition spoke to people from Engineers Australia and said, as quoted in their letter:

We have no problem with the bill.

The opposition leader said to people from Engineers Australia, ‘I have no problem with the bill. We have no problem with the bill’. But suddenly, when the bill comes before the house, they take an entirely different tack from what their opposition leader indicated to the Engineers Australia group. How bizarre is that? It is no wonder so many professional groups are discrediting the opposition, because they just go one way or the other, and they cannot be relied upon to take any single approach at all.

Why do we need this body? We have had other letters come to us too. There is one from an engineer I would like to read out:

I am in full support of the proposed registration of engineers in Victoria as this registration will prevent persons that do not have an accredited degree and experience becoming an professional practising engineer.

In my 20 years as an engineer, I have met a multitude of engineers that have been both registered … and not registered. Of the engineers that do not have registration and are not willing to go through the processes to achieve this I have found a large selection of them to be unsafe and unethical. Most of these are so-called ‘engineers’ — they either do not have formal training as an engineer … or have degrees from universities that are not aligned with the Washington Accord.

As an engineer’s position is one that requires process and safety knowledge, as well as how to apply this knowledge in an ethical way, having non-registered engineers in positions of authority can and will cause major issues with projects. This may include non-compliance with standards, substandard designs, budget overruns … safety issues etc.

Victoria needs to have a registered professional engineers program to prevent this continuing.

That is just one example of the many letters that have been sent to the government totally supportive of this legislation. We know that the legislation is very sound.

With regard to the engineers from my community of Ballarat who have come to me to express some concerns with the legislation, they were very pleased that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer, Daniel Mulino, was happy to meet with them and was happy to hear what they had to say. He tried to convince them that this legislation is not something that they need to fear but something on which they can work with their own regional professional body of engineers to ensure that this works in their interests.

As a former teacher I know that when we went through the process of teacher registration there were concerns out there, but overall we recognise that if you are a professional, you need to be registered. You need to ensure that there are processes in place if things go wrong, that the community can follow up and have the confidence to know that the person they are employing in the first place is reliable and, if there is a problem, that there is a body they can go to to have that issue evaluated and that person brought to account.

We also note that as part of this process engineers, as with any professionals, need to continue to undergo professional development, so that is clearly built into this bill, and there are safeguards. If an engineer has come to the attention of somebody who has made a complaint, there is an appropriate process for them to go through and seek redress if they believe the engineering body has been heavy-handed.

The other thing I want to say, in regard to the opposition’s concerns that the bill gives too much power to Engineers Australia and Professionals Australia, is that the example in Queensland is that while those professional bodies were established and could quickly fit into their registration process, other bodies can also apply to be registration bodies and that can be provided for. In Queensland we have a number of bodies — about eight or nine bodies in addition to the two major registration bodies that are in place — so there is that sense of competition in place if the big bodies are seen to be becoming too heavy-handed.

This is very sound legislation. It has been worked through over a long period of time in line with a commitment from this side of the house before we came to the last election. It is very sound, as I have said. The opposition’s sudden twist comes after they had given Engineers Australia, through the Leader of the Opposition, the understanding that they had no problem with the bill. Suddenly they have taken this strange twist, which is a backflip away from supporting this bill, and I think that is unfortunate. But I am certainly pleased as a member of this government to say that it is sound practice to have certain important professions like this one registered. This bill has been developed through a very sound process working with Engineers Australia and other engineers to ensure that we get this process right, and I clearly support this legislation.