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The wall, two years later see more

Kegs against wall
Kegs lined up against the wall, c. 1980s (VHD)

An old brick wall collapsed in central Melbourne two years ago, killing three young students walking past on a busy footpath. I cobbled together a history of the wall and published it. Then time passed. Occasional news articles focused on fragments of the official investigations, but it was (and is) hard to get the big picture on what has happened since March 2013. In summary: not a lot.

[ Previous posts: FIRST – March 2013 SECOND – April 2013 THIRD – April 2013 ]

I stopped at the site on the second anniversary last weekend and found dead flowers in the vases of the “temporary memorial”. It’s a slab of stone that appears to be frozen in the midst of falling off a rough concrete wall (which could be the original). It perhaps too closely recalls the events of the day. The main purpose of the slanted top seems to be to stop people from fixing things to it, which is unfortunate. In the week after the collapse, a melamine shrine was erected – simply a shelf that people could lave candles and notes on, and flowers and stubbie holders. It was probably more appropriate.

swanston street temporary memorial
Temporary memorial, March 28, 2015 (PJ)

Swanston wall shrine
Original shrine, April 4, 2013 (PJ)

The only hint that it was the anniversary was a white wreath from the CFMEU union propped against a planter. The newspapers were silent, as they had nothing new to report.

I’ve dredged court reporting and pieced together a timeline of what has happened since March 28th, 2013. I did not know of the dates of the various hearings and did not attend. Audio recordings of hearings are available at a cost to “non-parties” with family permission for one year and they are then destroyed. I have not sought these out. The Melbourne public is totally reliant on coverage of the case by the media, which has been rather disjointed.

Several inquiries were meant to be underway in the immediate aftermath of the collapse. Grocon, WorkSafe (also called “WorkCover”), Victoria Police, the Building Commission (now VBA) and the Coroners Court were all conducting investigations. It is hard to find much trace of these. The Coroner’s website has no information on the wall collapse other than some name suppressions. WorkSafe’s websites have two articles, both published soon after the collapse. The VBA website has nothing about their investigation of the collapse.

Swanston Street wall on April 4th 2013
An inspector at the wall on April 4th, 2013

A chronology

March 28th, 2013
New information about 28/3/13 since my last reports

  • the wall was constructed in 1971 with a building permit.
  • Grocon hired Aussie Signs to build the wall in October 2011. They sublet the job to another contractor.
  • the wall made a creaking sound just before it fell
  • the hoarding peeled away
  • others were injured but left the scene immediately

March 29th, 2013
Planning Minister Matthew Guy tells radio 3AW that he understands the wall was “more than a hundred years… The wall has been [left there since the CUB demolition] so I understand that’s the rationale for keeping it.”

Media around the country report that the wall was very old. Not much is done to correct this when two days later the wall is discovered to be quite new.

The Age 29.03.13

April 30th, 2013, WorkSafe
WorkSafe’s media website announces that an investigation is continuing but, “given the complexity of the task it remains in its relatively early stages and will take some time to complete.” “The investigation’s primary focus is to determine whether any offences under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 have been committed.” VWA News

The authority also issues a safety alert on its website, which is a reworking of a 2004 alert.

May 24th, 2013, Coroners Court
Coroner Ian Gray warns that possible criminal prosecutions could stall the coronial inquest for several years. He does not rule out the possibility of holding the inquest in tandem with proceedings in other courts. ABC

Brick pile

December 4th, 2013, Coroners Court direction hearing
A police investigator tells the Coroners Court that Grocon had failed to provide witness statements other than that of an archaeologist who had previously worked at the site. The state coroner judge said he would order 18 other Grocon-associated witnesses to give statements if they were not forthcoming within a fortnight. The investigators had managed to interview 60 other witnesses.

Police investigators also tell the court that they were unable to obtain an engineering survey about a bluestone wall from Grocon, as the commpany had said it was not relevant. The judge orders it to be made available anyway, by the end of the week.

While he is at it, Gray criticises WorkSafe for not having shared with police 10 folders of material from their own investigation. WorkSafe lawyers reply, saying this would not be possible before April 2014. Judge Gray: “This happened nine months ago. Of course there’s a lot involved… but I’m not prepared to accept I should wait as long as you’re proposing.”

Gray orders that a “critical” engineering report be delivered within two weeks, well before the coronial inquest which is set for June, 2014.

A “well-placed legal source” tells The Age that, “WorkSafe say they’re doing their best but Grocon are lawyered up and are being totally unco-operative.”

This tallies with what I’ve been told by another source who said that Grocon had more than 15 lawyers at the hearing, slowing proceedings. I also heard that few Melbourne building professionals were willing to provide expert advice to the authorities and so some experts were sought from afar.

The Age’s allegations were refuted in the Herald Sun in an article: published online that same day. Grocon and WorkSafe affirmed that Grocon had been cooperating, while the State Coroner refused to comment.

In the only reference to the wall collapse on the Coroner’s Court website, Coroner Gray makes an interim suppression order prohibiting publication of information which may identify four key witnesses. The order is to be reviewed on December 19th at another direction hearing. There is no further mention of the case or the name suppressions on the website.

The Age 05.12.13

December 19th, 2013, Coroners Court direction hearing
14 Grocon employees have been interviewed since the judge ordered Grocon employees to give statements to the police. Three would not provide statements until “other processes in the investigation have occurred.” Their lawyers justified this on the grounds that they might incriminate themselves. These three, and a further witness who agreed to talk to the police, were granted name suppression.

The Age


All remnants of the fallen wall have been removed, and the footpath has been resealed. In March Grocon install a temporary stone memorial and planter boxes, for which a planning permit was obtained.

March 28th, 2014, Swanston Square on the anniversary
Construction work halts for a day out of respect for Bridget Jones, Alexander Jones and Marie-Faith Fiawoo. A Grocon spokesman says, “The important questions about why these three young lives were lost are not yet resolved but some answers will no doubt emerge when the Coronial inquest begins later this year.”


April 29th, 2014, Magistrates’ Court
Worksafe (Victorian WorkCover Authority) files criminal charges at the Magistrates’ Court against three Grocon companies and Aussie Signs (the subcontractor who erected the sign). Each charge is eligible for a fine not exceeding $1.3M, however this is limited by the Magistrates’ Court limit of $305,000.

The Herald Sun was able to view VWA’s charge sheet, which stated that, “The attachment of the hoarding to the wall was unsafe… It was reasonably practicable for Grocon Pty Limited to have eliminated or reduced the risk to the health and safety of persons in the vicinity of the wall and hoarding.”

Referring to the lack of engineering and wind design, inspections and building permits, the documents allege that, “Grocon did not take any of the above measures to eliminate or reduce the risk to health and safety of persons who were not its employees. Nor did it ensure that any other person or entity took such measures.”

A third party, Paramount Signs, erected the wall for Aussie Signs. The 29 year old owner of Paramount is facing $72,000 in fines for not having a building permit. He is the first person to be charged in the case.

The Aussie Signs quote was approved on October 6th, 2011, with work beginning on October 10th and finishing four days later.

Grocon executive chairman Daniel Grollo says, “Grocon’s priority remains to assist investigating authorities as they continue to closely examine all of the factors that contributed to the wall collapse and identify what needs to be done to see it never happens again.”

The coronial inquest, scheduled for June 2014, is delayed indefinitely.

“Building giant Grocon and sign firm hit with seven criminal charges over fatal Swanston St wall collapse” Herald Sun 29.04.14
“Contractor faces criminal charges…” Herald Sun 29.04.14

Hoarding installation
Early October – the hoarding is erected and painted (Fairfax video)

Hoarding installation
Early October – the hoarding is extended to the Malt Store. This extension looks almost like an afterthought but would place additional pressure on the end of the brick wall, to which it was bolted. (Fairfax video)

May, 2014, VBA
The Victorian Building Authority reissues its “When is a building permit required?” fact sheet, adding two new clauses relating to signs on free-standing walls. Here’s one:

“A building permit is required for signs that are attached to free standing walls, permanent or temporary fences that put addition dead and live (wind) loads and forces on the wall or fence that hasn’t been designed for those additional loads. To prevent the possibility of the collapse of the wall or fence, the wall or fence will need to be assessed for structural soundness and be structurally certified to ensure it can withstand the additional forces imposed by the sign.”

The previous edition, in 2008, required a building permit for a new sign above one metre, but made no mention of signs attached to existing structures.

June 25th, 2014, Magistrates’ Court
A subcontractor to the signage subcontractor appeared at the Magistrates’ Court. He had been charged by the Victorian Building Authority with constructing a timber structure attached to a wall without a permit. Unlike those previously charged, his full name, age and address were published.

Herald Sun 26.06.14

July, 2014
Grocon puts two northern sites at C.U.B. on the market, totalling 6,600 square metres.

The Age 30.07.14

August 25th, 2014, Magistrates’ Court
Magistrate Charlie Rozencwajg allows Grocon lawyers six weeks to vet 600 WorkSafe (WorkCover) documents.

Melbourne Times/The Age

September 26th, 2014, Swanston Street
The 29 year old signage sub-subcontractor charged by the VBA in June reappears at the Magistrates’ Court. His lawyer tells the court that his client received a letter from Aussie Signs making it clear that no work permit was required. He says that their defence team is trying to access information from the coroner’s investigations in order to shed more light on the details of this sub-subcontractor agreement.

Sourceable 26.09.14

September 30th, 2014, Swanston Street
In high winds, a temporary gangway roof on the Swanston Square building site blows off its fixings, flips and lands upside down on the footpath at the scene of last year’s tragedy. Pedestrians ran for it. ABC – with photos

October 6th, 2014, Magistrates’ Court
The court learns that mounds of earth from an archaeological dig were seen immediately next to the wall prior to its collapse. A Grocon VS lawyer asks if he can question the archaeologists about the extent of their operation. “We’re not talking about the pyramids of Giza”, says the lawyer. The magistrate grants the request.

The committal hearing is expected to take 12 days and to involve more than 40 witnesses.

The lawyers for Aussie Signs would like to establish whose idea it was to hang the hoarding on the wall, while the three Grocon entities want to know who commissioned the work.

The Age 06.10.14

Glenn Wilson Feb 2013 photo of CUB site
The mounds of earth in late February, 2013 – credit Glenn Wilson

November 12th-13th, 2014, Magistrates’ Court
At the first day of the committal hearing, Grocon (Victoria Street) Pty Ltd and the prosecutors come to an agreement. Grocon would plead guilty immediately if the matter would stay in the Magistrates’ Court, and if they could plead on a risk basis, rather than a causal one (meaning that they did not cause the wall to collapse). If GVS were to plead guilty to one of two charges, the four charges against two other Grocon subsidiaries whould be dropped, pending court approval. The prosecution no longer believed it could be proven beyond reasonable doubt that mounting the hoarding on the wall caused it to fall.

Lawyers for Aussie Signs did not become aware of this conditional plea until the week before. Their QC Nick Papas said, “it changes things completely.”

Three Grocon companies had each been charged with two identical offences. 1. “[failing to ensure] persons other than your employees were not exposed to risks to their health and safety arising from the conduct of your undertaking” and 2: failing to ensure a workplace was safe and without risks to health. GVS would plead guilty only to the second charge, which relates to employee safety, not the safety of passersby.

WorkCover’s allegations centre on the lack of a building permit, the lack of a bracing design, the lack of a wind risk assessment, and the lack of a post-construction engineer’s inspection.

QC Ray asserts that, “it’s not possible to say that the conduct of the accused caused the wall to collapse… Whilst it’s serious offending, the measure of disregard is not at the highest end.”

“He said rather, [Grocon VS] should have been aware of [the wall’s] capacity to withstand wind, and should have conducted an assessment of the wall’s capacity. He said it was reasonable to accept Grocon would have taken action to reduce that risk.” ABC

By pleading guilty at the Magistrates’ Court, rather than have the case proceed to the County Court, the maximum fine would be $305,350. The maximum fine at the County Court is $1.1M.

View from North
Aerial view from North, c. 2011, Bing Maps

Magistrate Charlie Rosencwaig says previous demolition works left the wall unshielded and vulnerable to wind. He refers to an expert witness who would testify that the wall would have fallen within five to ten years without the hoarding. “With the hoarding, it comes down to six to twelve months.” He questions whether the case was resolved with Grocon’s guilty plea. But he also thinks the fine “ample” for the offence, and notes that, “closure and finalisation is a very important aspect in matters such as this.”

Grocon chairman Daniel Grocon writes in a press release that, “this process has identified areas in which we, and the industry as a whole, can improve our procedures to ensure the safety of the public, and our employees, is further protected, including on vacant sites.”

Several witnesses in the immediate aftermath of the collapse state that they saw rusted or corroded brick ties within the debris. An MFB inspector stated that, “there was no attachment from one skin to another.”

A City of Melbourne building surveyor defends the council’s inaction after the hoarding was erected. They saw no need to take action.“From our perspective this fence or wall had a building permit and has been in use and has been standing up since 1971… It’s only when issues are brought to our attention as to safety that we investigate and try to determine what needs to be done, if anything.”

An inspector from WorkCover visited the wall during the installation of the hoarding and saw nothing inappropriate or dangerous.

Aussie Signs decides not to match Grocon’s guilty plea. Under instruction from the Director of Public Prosecutions, the prosecution requests that the Aussie Signs case be send to trial at the Supreme Court. Magistrate Charlie Rosencwaig questions this, asking why they hadn’t requested the same for Grocon. The prosecutor replied that the case was sufficiently important to go to the Supreme Court.

A builder subcontracted by Aussie Signs, and who is being prosecuted by the Victorian Building Authority, is to appear as a witness.

Sources: ABC | ABC | “WorkCover drops claim Grocon caused deadly wall collapse” The Australian 12.11.14 | “Grocon to plead guilty…” The Age 12.11.14 | “Ties on Melbourne collapse wall had rusted through, court told” The Australian 13.11.14 | Herald Sun 14.11.14 | “Grocon’s maximum fine after wall collapse a ‘slap on the wrist’” The Age 13.11.14 | “Grocon guilty…” Sourceable 13.11.14 | Architecture and Design 14.11.14

enlarged detail of 1979 aerial view of wall. Credit: Wolfgang Sievers, NLA

November 20th, 2014, Magistrates’ Court
At the second day of the hearing, Grocon pleads guilty to one breach of the Occupational Health & Safety Act. Regarding WorkSafe’s allegations, Grocon Victoria Street’s QC Ross Ray says that the company was entitled to a presumption of integrity due to the “free-standing” wall’s 1971 building permit. “When it’s built with a permit there’s no need to go back and recertify”, said QC Ray. The lack of risk assessment was due to the site not being considered a building site at that stage. GVS relied upon its subcontractor Aussie Signs to assess risk.

Grocon’s lawyers express “deep regret”, and seek a fine of around $250,000. QC Ray said, “no one – no one – questioned the integrity of that wall. All people in the industry have learnt due to this tragic incident.”

Prosecutor Gregory Lyon said that Grocon had failed to check that Aussie Signs had ensured that the wall was safe before erecting the hoarding. This had exposed large numbers of pedestrians to the risk of injury or death. Ray replied that this risk hadn’t been picked up as the site wasn’t a construction site – Grocon had relied on their subcontractor – “that reliance was not enough”.

Grocon VS is fined $250,000 and costs on one charge, as Grocon had suggested. The maximum penalty at the Magistrates’ Court is $305,000.

According to Magistrate Rozencwajg, the incident represented a significant failure of the company’s duty, but acknowledged Grocon had since acted in the manner expected of a good corporate citizen.

Grocon executive chairman Daniel Grollo says, “in whatever small way, we hope that the timely conclusion of the proceedings today assists the families and friends affected by this tragedy.”

The committal hearing had been intended to run for 12 days. If there were further sittings they were not covered by the media. The news of the Grocon prosecution was not reported by WorkSafe’s own dedicated news website.

Sources: ABC | The Age | “Court hears Grocon wall had permit” SKY 20.11.14 | ABC

Saturday March 28th, 2015, Swanston Square on the 2nd anniversary
The hoarding along the site has been partially removed to make way for the entrance to the Swanston Square apartment building.

The AFR reported during the week Grocon would be selling off various portions of the C.U.B. site to other developers, but that they would retain the Swanston Street frontage. The Maltstore was sold earlier in the month to a Singaporean syndicate.

The Aussie Signs trial

This trial is to take place at the County Court, which uses juries. This is perhaps one reason for the lack of commentary on the wall in the past months. I cannot find mention of the trial in any court lists.

clean bricks
Where’s the mortar?

A few unanswered quesions

Though these questions may have been discussed in the various hearings, no commentary or conclusions have been published (that I have been able to find).

- when was the 1971 building permit unearthed? Was there an inspection during construction in 1971?
- what reasons were given for Grocon (Victoria Street) Pty Ltd’s willingness to plead guilty to one charge (relating to employee risk), but not the other one (relating to public risk)?
- has any action been taken by the Planning Minister over the lack of a planning permit for the hoarding advertising?
- what are the details of the 1984 incident when the truck hit the wall? Rumour has it that the truck hit a different part of the wall, or possibly even another wall.
- what are the results of testing done on salvaged fragments of the wall?

Street edge
Street edge, with adjacent shallow concrete wall removed

bricks on end
Bricks on end in hidden leaf. This is another indication that the concrete wall may have pre-dated the brick wall. PJ 2013

Some of the problems with the wall when it was built:

  • it was over-height by about 700mm
  • it had no effective buttressing or lateral restraint
  • the pilasters sat on an adjacent concrete bund wall
  • there was a combined concrete / brick system near the base of the wall. While brinks expand, concrete shrinks over time.
  • there weren’t enough reinforcing ties. Boral recommends medium duty metal ties spaced at no more than 400mm horizontally and vertically.
  • the wall had a stretcher bond – no headers (cross-laid bricks) other than the top capping
  • there was no drip edge on the capping bricks (though this is not uncommon in Victoria)
  • there was inconsistent mortaring – both flush and raked used – both of which were unsuitable
  • there were no control joints to allow for movement
  • there was an apparent lack of mortar in the vertical (collar) joint between leaves
  • perforated capping bricks were left open to weather at wall step downs.
  • at least 5 types and ages of bricks were used, including old pressed bricks and newer extruded bricks. There would have been varying porosities, compression strengths. The old and new bricks may have required different mortar mixes.
  • there was either a lack of mortar, or else the mortar had not adherred – noticeable in post-demolition photos showing clean bricks
  • a steel end support at the north end of the wall, and other steel fixings for a gate, may have caused eccentricities in the wall due to the differing rates of expansion
  • there was no noticeable DPC beneath the capping
  • the hidden leaf of bricks, between the concrete wall and the facing bricks, in some places contained rubble and in others bricks were used on end.

“It appears to contravene every rule in the book” Trevor Huggard. Former Lord Mayor, engineer in The Age 03.04.13

different brick types used together

Some of the problems for the wall after it was built:

  • the southern abutting building was demolished in 1989
  • the brewery was demolished by Hudson Conway, exposing the wall to wind and gusts across the site
  • the few wall ties seen after collapse were corroded.
  • capping bricks fell off and were not replaced
  • the mortar had deteriorated in many places
  • efflorescence was visible on the face of the wall at mortar joints
  • there was evidence of mould colonies within the wall
  • the outer face was sealed with paint
  • most of the inner face was sealed with graffiti
  • the addition of a plywood hoarding in late 2011
  • storage of earth adjacent to the wall in February 2013

( Information from news, photos, court hearings, brick construction manuals, head )

Bricks at street edge

Preventing a repeat

Walls have continued to fall around Victoria since 2013 and will continue to do so. These accidents attract little attention unless there is an injury or death. If the wall in Swanston Street had fallen at 4a.m. when no one was around, its likely we’d not even remember it had happened.

I had expected there to be more of a discussion about the safety of neglected sites and construction sites, but instead the media and courts have focused on the hoarding. Perhaps some initiatives are in train, but after two years of waiting, I’m not hopeful.

brick pile
Yet another type of brick: 3 hole extruded

What could be done?

This isn’t meant to be a comprehensive list. That would require a building industry-wide response. But there hasn’t been one.

  • Rate holidays on vacant sites could cease – RMIT didn’t pay rates on the CUB site for eight years because it is an educational institution.
  • Rates and land tax on land-banked sites and “bomb sites” could be reviewed.
  • Demolition sites could be redefined as construction sites, and so be subject to the same safety requirements.
  • Archaeological digs immediately prior to building, and requiring bulk earth moving, could be considered part of the early construction process.
  • Site dilapidation reports should be the norm when large properties change hands. ( sample PDF )
  • Selling sites like Monopoly could be discouraged.
  • There could be a public safety hotline, with a phone number prominent on any hoarding around bomb sites.
  • There could be an advanced weather forecasting system (AWFS) sending out automated alerts, as is now happening in Calgary.
  • WorkSafe could extend its remit beyond employees to the general public, better reflecting the stated objectives of the OH&S Act.
  • Worksafe could publish its construction incident report on its website, as it has done previously.
  • The Ministry for Planning and the City of Melbourne could sort out their demarcation issues on site boundaries. They could also assure the public about what they have done to lessen the possibility of a recurrence.
  • Salient points contained in the hundreds of Australian Standards for construction could be made free so that smaller builders and contractors are encouraged to obtain them and refer to them. Minimum expected standards should not be locked behind a pay-wall, especially those that affect public safety.
  • Encourage use of the building code (now National Construction Code) by making it free, as New Zealand did some years ago after the “leaky building” scandal revealed widespread ignorance in the industry. This is being acted upon now by the ABCB – the 2015 online edition will be free to view.
  • A permanent memorial could be built for the three students. One not tucked in a corner.


As mentioned in my first post, toddler Michelle Krsek was killedin 2009 by 250kg of flying roofing iron near a construction site. This prompted a conversation about public safety in Calgary which has led to several actions. These include the formation of the On-Site Construction Safety Committee ( a joint initiative between the city, the construction association and the OH&S authority ), a best practices guide commemorating Kersk ( PDF ), an advanced weather forecasting alert system, a public safety component in construction degrees, a construction award and scholarship in Michelle’s name, and a push for changes to legislation to better include third parties (the general public). It’s not perfect but at least the wheels are turning. Canadian OH&S consultant Peter M. Knaack sums up the state of things there – but he could equally be describing Victoria.

“While employers, supervisors, regular employees and contractors represent the most important identified stakeholders within Canada’s collective body of safety statutes and regulations, other significant stakeholders also exist whose importance presently remains only poorly defined and regulated under existing Canadian occupational health and safety legislation. Although largely ignored by the health and safety statutes and regulations, victims of industrial accidents who are not actual parties to the work being conducted represent the most significant additional risk factor to any public or private employer.”

05.04.15 in brick authorities


An incredible piece, thank you for sharing.

by Melissa on 7 May 15 ·#

The opportunities start today see more

The Victorian Minister for Planning has issued the following statement to the AIA, following a meeting representatives from the ministry, AIA, and ACA last Wednesday. The AIA had asked for “further clarification on the reasons for the ARBV inclusion in the reforms and the process for consultation that the Minister is proposing to undertake.”

Reform of Regulatory Arrangements

“A strong and buoyant building sector is vital to support Victoria’s continued growth – our economic growth, our population growth and the growth of our cities and towns. The Coalition government was elected with a commitment to foster change and growth in a manner that respects the built form. One of Victoria’s greatest assets is the built form of our cities and towns.

In delivering on this commitment, the Government has announced a major reform to the regulation of the building industry. The new Victorian Building Authority will integrate the regulatory functions of Architects, Building Practitioners and Plumbing practitioners.

This change is important to support the building industry overall and consultation has commenced with all of the regulatory bodies that have a role to play in the delivery of our built form outcomes.

The Government wants to ensure that the new Authority delivers on best practice regulatory outcomes from day one. This means that we need to be very clear about how this organisation should be structured. It is important that we get all the details right.

An independent consultant will advise on the proposed structure and arrangements.

Detailed consultation with the AIA and the ARBV on the new structural arrangements of the new Victorian Building Authority will take place late January, early February 2013. This will ensure that the changes to the regulatory process of the State’s building system are holistic and cognisant of all relevant matters.

The key functions of the ARBV such as determining qualifications and experience required for registration, regulating examinations and accrediting courses in architecture will continue. Working with architects on continuing professional development and in developing mutual recognition models will also continue.

The ARBV will continue to operate as usual until the structure of the new Authority is finalised and the Victorian Building Authority is established which is expected to be in the third quarter of 2013.

Being part of a larger integrated Industry regulator brings exciting opportunities for all elements of Victoria’s building sectors. The opportunities start today.”

Okaaay. Once the spin is spun out of that statement, what are we left with that we didn’t already know?

In terms of reasons, this is about it..

  • “This change is important to support the building industry overall.”

In terms of proposed consultations

  • consultation has commenced
  • detailed consultation with AIA and ARBV to occur late January, early February 2013.
  • The VBA launch has been pushed back to 3rd quarter 2013.

The retention of ARBV functions in the VBA
The Minister lists the “key functions” of the ARBV that will continue, presumably as architecture-specific entities within the new authority. Oddly the ARBV’s disciplinary role is not listed, and neither is its role in the investigation of title breaches. In fact everything post-registration has gone other than CPD and mutual recognition talks. Either they forgot, or these roles are “non key” and will be dropped, or they will be rolled into into the main functions of the VBA.

The Architects Act
No word what’s happening to this, but it looks like any future act will be rather lightweight and concentrate on education and CPD.

New South Wales
It looks like we’re being left in the dark here, with an opportunity to comment that comes a little bit late in the process to be of any use. Compare this situation with its parallel in New South Wales. There, the government’s Red Tape Review has put its anti-regulatory cards on the table very early in the process, and is calling for community input prior to making any decisions. [ NSWARB ]

The NSW Red Tape Review wants to cut $750M from administrative expenses by 2015. It applies to all types of licence authorities. In addition to cost-saving, that state government is quite plain about its views:

“Licences… also act as a barrier to new businesses entering a market, thereby stifling competition, potential efficiency gains and economic activity.
bq. The costs of licences are unnecessary if they are greater than those needed to achieve the regulatory objective or the objective is now redundant.

In NSW, stakeholder submissions and licence holder surveys end on Wednesday. In late February there will be a “public roundtable”, followed by a draft report in March with a six week response period, and a final report to government in mid 2013.

The Victorian government has skipped all bases and bounded straight to an announcement on legislative changes, that it initially hoped to pass within a few months. Vive la différence.

(The Minister for Planning’s statement above was sourced from the AIA’s Vmail service today)

10.12.12 in authorities 


page listing related:   in  Australia   Victoria  

Registration board death knell part 2 see more

Well, Mr Guy did issue his press release, which read a lot like the Fairfax article discussed yesterday. It makes the same points, and avoids any discussion of the architectural profession other than implying that its registration board is one of an ad-hoc band of cowboy building industry entities that befuddle the consumer.

Guy does say though, that there will be industry consultation next month, ahead of the introduction of legislation in the first half of next year. Better too late than never. This is all the result of a report ( PDF ) which was also released yesterday. It’s fresh and green in design, and is called, “A fresh start for building industry regulation: Reforming Victoria’s building system.” It’ll be good for us, like a Granny Smith.

A fresh start

Inside, Matthew Guy introduces the report by talking about the need for building permit reform. He refers to the Victorian Auditor General’s report into building permits. He doesn’t mention that the current system which privatised building surveyors was introduced by the previous Coalition government in the ’90s. Because of recent PR problems at the Building Commission, where people were doing what they weren’t supposed to, Guy has decided that it needs to be closed down and a new building industry-wide authority needs to take its place. That decision just happens to sweep away the ARBV.

As a commenter to the previous post pointed out, deregulation of the profession has been on the creep for decades. Odd that an earlier spurt of deregulation by the Kennett government set up the environment for the current difficulties with the building permit system that have prompted this reform. Wheels and roundabouts.

In New Zealand, after some disastrous problems with shonky building work, the building permit system was renationalised. Guy isn’t opting for that here. Instead the Building Commission becomes the Building Authority and advances deregulation by sweeping the plumbers and architects into the new system, for reasons of competitiveness, transparency, soundness, and safety.

Architectural bodies are quite out of the picture. Next month’s consultations are described thus:

Throughout December 2012, meetings will be held with key industry stakeholders including the Housing Industry Association, Master Builders Association Victoria, Australian Institute of Building Surveyors and the Property Council of Australia.

In addition, existing government advisory forums such as the Building Advisory Council, the Plumbing Industry Advisory Council and the Building Regulations Advisory Committee will be used to provide industry with information about the proposed changes and seek members’ views on transitional and implementation issues.

Then, having spoken a lot about building permits, but without mentioning architects, architecture, or architectural registration, the report introduces the new authority.

The new VBA will integrate the functions of the Building Commission, Plumbing Industry Commission and the Architects Registration Board of Victoria to provide a single point of governance for building and plumbing practitioners and architects.

The reports other points, abridged.

  • The VBA will streamline processes and reduce duplication of effort.
  • The VBA will contribute to reduction in regulatory burden for industry and consumers. This means that resources can be targeted to areas of greatest
    need with an increased focus on risk-based approaches.
  • The VBA will be more proactive in the identification of issues and address them before they become significant issues of non-compliance.

While there are pages and pages referring to the practice of building surveying, there is no reference to the practice of architecture. The ARBV’s functions are some distance from building permits. It appears to have been scooped up in the rush.

There are about 606 building surveyors in Victoria. There are 112 registered architects with surnames beginning with ‘A’ (sorry my patience ran out). There are a lot more architects than there are building surveyors, yet the entire registration and educational accreditation system is about to be upended for no stated reason, on the back of building surveyor reforms. As a young person might say, “WTF?!”

/ ~ /

Updated 1/12/12
Reading this on the ARBV’s website today, I wonder if anyone in the profession was aware of the proposal…

“Victorian Building Authority

The announcement of the Victorian Building Authority and the inclusion of the Architects Registration Board of Victoria in it, has come as a surprise to the Board which has a long history of excellent work dating back to 1923.

We will try to keep people informed during the promised consultation period.

If you wish to have your views noted, please email registrar [at] arbv.vic.gov.au…

/ ~ /
Updated 3/12/12
Turns out now that even the Institute was not aware of the government’s proposal to kill off the ARBV. LINK

29.11.12 in authorities 

comments closed

To quote from the recommendations of the 1999 Review of Architects and Building Legislation

“Chapter 7: integration of the architects legislation and the building legislation.
We find that there are potential net benefits to be obtained from integration of
the architect legislation and the building legislation. We take the view that
integration, subject to any appropriate transition period, should procure
administrative costs savings and should allow consistent application of
construction industry policies for all participants. The experience and apparent
effectiveness of the ARBV should assist an amalgamated ARBV and BPB to
achieve higher levels of compliance with the building legislation.”

On the face of it it seemed to suggest that the ARBV works, the Building Practitioners Board doesn’t so lets move architects into the BPB. Didn’t make sense then, still doesn’t.

At the time Matthew Guy was a a protege of Rob Mclellan who was the minister responsible for the report and was on Premier Geoff Kennet’s staff taking a keen interest in planning and building regulation. Mr Guy is certainly persistent.

You never know though, there may be some benefit to the architectural profession and the public of their being inside the building regulation structure rather than outside. Perhaps mandatory endorsement of documents as in USA or Spain. Maybe architects could certify compliance of their designs with planning schemes? Now that would speed things up.

by David White on 30 November 12 ·#

tony arnell is an architect.

by info on 30 November 12 ·#

I’m not an architect, I’m an engineer – we don’t even get a mention in Mr Guy’s press release.

by Ross on 5 December 12 ·#

I don’t see what the problem is. As long as i can keep my title as Architect and practice on an unlimited range of buildings thats fine. Draftees can practice as long as they make the public aware of their limited qualifications and require certification from Architects on more complex buildings.

Just like the Building Surveying profession has two categories. Unlimited for those University educated. And Limited for those who have diplomas from TAFE.

by Anti-Narcissist on 7 December 12 ·#

If you’re not an Architect you must be called a Designing Drafts person not anything else .

by Anti-Narcissist on 7 December 12 ·#

page listing related:   in  Australia   Victoria  

ARBV RIP? see more open website in same window

The Age newspaper this morning revealed that Victorian Minister for Planning Matthew Guy will at any moment announce the disbanding of the Building Commission, the Plumbing Industry Commission, and the Architects Registration Board of Victoria. They are to be replaced, says The Age, by a new building authority.

The ARBV , in existence since 1923, is at the core of the Architects Act . The Act governs how architects are educated and registered, and how complaints against them are handled. The Age quotes Matthew Guy as saying, “The establishment of the Victorian Building Authority in conjunction with these other reforms is a critical step in ensuring the ad hoc approach to industry regulation over the past decade is brought to an end.”

It’s very early days, but if Mr Guy is serious about this there are many aspects that will affect the profession in Victoria. Here are a few to perhaps keep an eye on.

  • The future status of the Architects Act.
  • The watering down or altering of offences in the Architects Act. For instance, will a building industry authority be particularly interested in protecting of expressions such as “architectural design” if it is also the authority for building designers.
  • Whether the Architects Tribunal is also to be disbanded and folded into the larger authority, which the article suggests may rely on an expanded VCAT.
  • What the problem is with the ARBV as it currently is. The Age ties this revamp to the recent and heavily publicised problems at the Building Commission, but doesn’t mention any at the ARBV.
  • The effects on the long-proposed Australia-wide registration system if Victorian architectural registrations are integrated into a new state building authority.
  • The fate of the four staff members at the ARBV, and architect-elected board members.
  • The effect on the accreditation of architectural courses.
  • Changes to the architect-governed registration examination.
  • Fee increases, as happened when the old NZ board was replaced by the NZRAB.
  • Mandatory CPD governance.
  • Alterations to the roles of the AIA and ACA-Victoria, to cover ARBV roles lost in the transition.

If the disbanding of the ARBV goes ahead, it’s going to be messy, and I suspect will leave many wondering what the point of it all was. Apparently it’s all about consistency and transparency. Hopefully Mr Guy will let us know a bit more than that.

29.11.12 in authorities 


This was all done and dusted in 1998. Heres a link to my summary of the process presented to the Productivity Commission in 2000.


by David White on 29 November 12 ·#

Thanks David. I am working through this and your forum post now. I did not see this ‘reform’ as being a continuation of the recommendations of the PC report but I guess it is. Haven’t read it for years. I wonder if Mr Guy has read it.

by peter on 29 November 12 ·#

Not an architect see more open website in same window

I remember being told or taught somewhere along the line that one way to justify my fees as an architect was to suggest to the client that a house designed by an architect would attract a premium of 10% at resale. That is, the extra time and cost would be paid back later several times over as the house could be marketed as “architect-designed”. I don’t think I have ever used this angle on a hesitant client – it seems a last ditch way to justify architectural services. It is also a bit hard to tell, when a house is sold as “architect-designed”, what it might have sold for had it been “architectural designer-designed”.

In a first, the Real Estate Authority in New Zealand has rapped the knuckles (PDF link) of a real estate agent for advertising a house as “architect-designed” when it was not. The New Zealand Registered Architects Board approached the REAA after requesting that the real estate agent forward to them the name of the architect involved.

The real estate agent responded that the architect was Noel Jessop, of Noel Jessop Architecture. He said, “[the] inquiry was not based around whether or not the buiding had been designed by a registered architect or not – he wanted to know, and I quote “who was the architect”… I maintain that the building was designed by an architect, and I quote Webster’s Concise English Dictionary, “a person who designs buildings and supervises their erection.”

The NZRAB (and now the REAA) feel that the word ‘architect ‘is too often used to prop the price of houses up by implying that they are, “very well designed and of a higher than average quality, or desirability…”

The NZRAB’s Warwick Bell notes: “For architects, this problem is especially galling because when the public sees mediocre house designs and is told they are ‘architect-designed,’ the public incorrectly concludes that architects don’t add value to the built environment.”

So architectural designers’ work is always of less quality than architects’ work? But it can often be galling to look at work by architects. Noel Jessop’s work looks better than the output of many registered architects. That he was educated in a polytechnic rather than a university doesn’t seem to have harmed him. He is apparently acting legally using the word “architecture” within his practice name, as that word is unrestricted in New Zealand. It’s unsurprising that the real estate agent assumed that architecture would have been created by an architect. But no longer forgivable – in New Zealand at least.

25.09.10 in authorities 


“Noel Jessop’s work LOOKS (?) better than the output of many registered architects.” , ergo it must BE better (?). It’s this kind of trite comment which further entrenches superficial perceptions of architecture. You know BETTER than this.

by James on 25 September 10 ·#

LOOKS because I have only photos to go on – I don’t live in the Waikato. LOOKS is a qualifier. You ergo(ed) it.

“look – give a certain impression or have a certain outward aspect; “She seems to be sleeping”..” Definition

by peter on 26 September 10 ·#

A few ok architects getting around have stopped calling what they do architecture. wonder why?

by info on 27 September 10 ·#


by Winne Wang on 17 October 10 ·#

from bd:

I am so thankful I started the slog pre-1998 before I had to pay ANY tuition fees! And thankfully, I told the authorities I had enrolled on a ‘six year sandwich course’ so the fees were paid right up to the end of Diploma Two. As a working class lad from a ‘deprived’ area who just did well at school and had a dream to be an Architect, I managed to realise it! There is no way I could afford to embark on the course now!

Nothwithstanding the above, it still took me 14 years to repay my student loans from taking the first one out in 1995.

Architecture is a VERY VERY expensive course! Students can pay far more than the £1000 quoted for their presentation work; I see many in Dip two these days preparing CGI videos (to rival the most professional of presentations!) and have laptops and projectors alongside their 12 A1 boards! – not to mention illuminated models etc. There is so much pressure to perform better than your peers and better than the year before! it is highly competitive – and this competition costs money in materials and IT etc. Then, to rub salt in the wounds, they are often denied the right to keep their own work as Universities say that the ‘intellectual property’ belongs to them. They can demand that they keep all your hard work that you have paid an absolute fortune for!

Then, at the end of all that, you might be one of the very lucky few fortunate enough to get a job that pays just above minimum wage. There is so much talent out there – especially from deprived and ethnic minority backgrounds (which the RIBA is keen to promote enter the profession!!!). Education should not be for the exclusive elite who have well off parents but available to all who have the ability, aptitude, and are not scared of a bit of hard work!

by Winnie Wang on 17 October 10 ·#

page listing related:   in  New Zealand  

NSW Government architect see more

lochhead and london

One of the more rivetting moments at the AIA 2010 conference, just finished, was the appearance of AIA NSW President Brian Zulaikha on stage during the last session about government architects. He had a short question for Assistant Government Architect Helen Lochhead – “why is the Government Architect’s Office in competition with the private sector”. Lochhead first responded that the GAO was “off-budget” and had to earn every cent of the $24M required every year to keep its 200-strong office open. When pressed further, she said, “I think that model myself is flawed”. She then reminded us of the things the GAO does that are (fairly) unique, namely The Indigenous Design Unit, an emergency engineers service, stone conservation, a water savings service, and electromedical engineering. A full list of the GAO’s services can be found here

Brian’s response to this? “We can’t afford with our fees to do our own work, let alone all that other stuff.”

Earlier, Victorian Government Architect Geoffrey London said that he thought the NSW office was in a, “complicated position”.

Watch this space?

25.04.10 in authorities 


is there a full transcript available of what Geofftey London had to say.

by hairdresser on 26 April 10 ·#

The NSW GAO’s only flaw is that it provides a public service without the full support of the public purse. It is a genuine GA office. What is the role of the Victorian GA – is it lobbyist for commerical interests?

by info on 26 April 10 ·#

BZ was happy enough to take his taxpayer funded training at the GA’s office – a tad hypocritical. And Murcutt jnr’s stab in the dark at facts reeked of silver spoon entitlement. Both don’t seem to realise there are a number of NSW private practices already benefiting from the public purse – with or without the GA. Even Candalepes was overheard after the session claiming the GA did not do any decent work (reckon they have more RAIA prizes than any other practice in NSW) – he was quickly told to f*k off … and did.

by luke on 28 April 10 ·#

@HD My notes on GL’s talk are a bit thin. I don’t think there are transcripts. He talked about the office and how it was located within government, how they are trying to qauntify the benefits of good design (adds value) and costs of bad design, referring to CABE in the UK and the pebble project. He talked about their god design publications, and their FTE staff levels (8, 2 funded by other departments). He then spoke of an upcoming book about small practice, their policy-making, and design workshops (Fed Sq East was an example). He then spoke about the problem of multi-res costing more than a single detached house, PPP, and briefly spoke about affordability forums and the bushfire homes service. Ther my notes end.

by peter on 29 April 10 ·#

God Design – Jungian Slip there Peter?

by hairdresser on 29 April 10 ·#

luve the f$ck off mr. artiface story luke.

by hairdresser on 29 April 10 ·#

Ha ha – Corrigan had a rambling story about god and design at the conference. But not London.

by peter on 29 April 10 ·#

VGA should have crossed his legs.

by luke on 5 May 10 ·#

SA to get government architect see more open website in same window

The South Australian Government is about to launch its Integrated Design Commission (IDC), and will soon appoint a government architect for SA. It was the last state not to have one. Hopefully, depending on what influence the GA and IDC will have, this might lower the number of wobbly planning decisions in SA. ( sample #1 & #2 ).

07.01.10 in authorities 


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