The Victorian Building Authority declined to comment on Monday.
The authority has previously said virtual audits complemented work plumbing auditors did on the ground and that site visits were still necessary. It said virtual audits began during the pandemic and “where suitable” continued to be used.
The Australian Institute of Building Surveyors has a rancorous relationship with the building authority, last year saying it had “lost confidence in the ability of the Victorian Building Authority, as a regulating authority, to carry out its primary functions effectively and fairly”.
At the time it accused the authority of failing to act on flammable cladding issues, adopting an unduly punitive approach to the discipline of building surveyors and raised concerns about the registration and qualification of some auditors.
The Victorian Building Authority has been criticised for years for its failure to adequately police the industry and pursue rogue builders and surveyors who sign off on faulty work.
Greg Smith, the former deputy president of the Fair Work Commission, led an independent inquiry into allegations of bullying and cultural issues at the authority, but only one of his two reports has been released.
WorkSafe last year issued an order to provide a safe workplace for its 43 building and plumbing inspectors following the suicide of building inspector Rob Karkut, who was under intense pressure from Victorian Building Authority managers to meet inspection targets.
Consumer Affairs Minister Danny Pearson said he knew Karkut very well and passed on his deep regret over his loss to his widow, Andrea Holden.
“I feel saddened by the impact this has had on consumers,” Pearson said on Monday.
He said Planning Minister Sonya Kilkenny had requested advice from the Victorian Building Authority about its regulatory practices and procedures.
“I think there’s an opportunity for us to look at what’s gone on, and to find ways to improve our performance to protect consumers,” he said.
Kilkenny has been meeting with the VBA, industry stakeholders, unions and an expert panel regarding reforms to strengthen Victoria’s building industry, enhance consumer protections and build confidence in the building system.
This includes measures to improve the performance of the VBA’s regulatory role.
The Community and Public Sector Union called on the building authority to publicly release Greg Smith’s reports into allegations of bullying and a toxic culture.
“CPSU’s position is that the people that created the toxic workplace culture are not the people to fix it, and they must be held to account,” a spokesperson said.
Kilkenny will ask the board to brief her when it receives the Smith report on the action it is taking in response to any issues identified. She has clearly set out her expectation that the VBA take appropriate action to ensure its workplace is safe.
The union also said “tick and flick inspections” were an anathema to the professionalism its members brought to the job and the surety consumers demanded.
The Victorian opposition said the government must urgently review the role and performance of the Victorian Building Authority board and management “in the light of these extraordinary revelations and ongoing failures of Victoria’s building regulator”.
The Victorian Greens said the reports of virtual inspections and a dysfunctional culture at the Victorian Building Authority were deeply concerning.
“The Victorian Labor government must address these issues as a matter of urgency,” Greens leader Samantha Ratnam said.
In 2021 an expert panel charged with reviewing Victoria’s building industry said that over the past few years there had been increased scrutiny of the effectiveness of the Victorian building regulatory system, particularly relating to poor safety and consumer protection outcomes.
“Successive reports by the Victorian Auditor-General’s Office in 2011 and 2015 and the Victorian Ombudsman in 2012 have criticised the operation of the Victorian Building Authority and its predecessor, the Building Commission, and their contribution to regulatory failures and persistent poor outcomes,” it said in a discussion paper.
The panel, which is chaired by the Commissioner for Better Regulation, Anna Cronin, said at the time that continuing improvements to the existing regulators, particularly relating to the Victorian Building Authority, were currently underway.
The panel will release a second discussion paper this year.
Crisis support is available from Lifeline on 13 11 14.
The Morning Edition newsletter is our guide to the day’s most important and interesting stories, analysis and insights. Sign up here.