Engineers Registration Bill 2018

Mr NOONAN (Williamstown) (16:07:20) — It is my pleasure this afternoon to rise and speak in support of the Engineers Registration Bill 2018. I have listened very carefully to the contributions. I think it is worth starting with some background in relation to the passage of this legislation to this place, because there is no doubt that work has been done and leadership has been shown — I want to shout out to my colleague Daniel Mulino in the other place, the Treasurer and other members of cabinet for the work that they have done and also the significant work done by our public servants — in relation to going out and listening very clearly through industry round tables which occurred in 2015 and 2016. There were some further consultations through a consultation paper in 2016, which yielded about 40 submissions from everyone from academics, retired and practising engineers and others with a very strong interest in engineering. There were further meetings all the way through last year and indeed there was further consultation on an exposure draft of this particular piece of legislation. So there has been a very comprehensive process of listening, crafting and shaping a piece of legislation before it actually comes to this place for debate.

I have listened to the contributions to this debate. It would be fair in terms of the contributions from those opposite to think that there are very few who support this piece of legislation. When you have got Professionals Australia and Engineers Australia saying they support this, to discredit their support by in some way suggesting they will be cash cow beneficiaries in terms of the legislation is disingenuous, because those professional bodies are interested in upholding the very important standards for their professions. There are very few professions of this quality — we look at lawyers who are obviously practising and licensed, we look at accountants who are certified, we look at the medical profession in terms of doctors — where essentially the function of the work of an engineer is often to deliver projects worth billions and billions of dollars.

When things go wrong on those projects, I think it would be fair to say that the whole profession is damaged. It could be said that the same goes for lawyers and doctors or, in the other case, accountants; when something significant goes wrong, it affects the whole profession. So I have no doubt as to the motives of Engineers Australia and Professionals Australia in terms of why they are pushing for this to happen in Victoria, and I in fact congratulate them on their advocacy, because I understand from my own professional background that it is very difficult and you have to be very patient and push for a registration scheme over a long period of time, get some commitments and go through the development process before you see a piece of legislation in the Parliament, as we do today.

In having a look at some of the various contributions in relation to the detail of this legislation I picked up an article from the Australian Financial Review that was written earlier this month. It quotes Chris Walton, the chief executive of the association of professional engineers. He does reference the tragic events of New Zealand — in fact, in Christchurch, with the earthquake over there:

We saw the worst of this in Christchurch five years ago when the CTV building collapsed, killing 115 people — a building which was planned by a fake engineer …

If that is not something that we should solemnly reflect on in terms of this piece of legislation and the importance of this scheme, I do not know what is. We can come up with all of the cost-benefit analysis and the like, but I think the importance around the standards of this profession is critical, because the instance that Mr Walton refers to where lives were lost is a very significant issue that we all need to reflect on.

I think it is also interesting to learn that in fact Engineers Australia, according to the AustralianFinancial Review piece, already has a voluntary national register. It is available online and there are about 18 000 names currently listed, and that is a very significant number. Of course the piece in the Financial Review also talks about the fact that other jurisdictions — New Zealand, the USA, Canada, Singapore and Japan — all in fact have registration schemes and points to the fact that with engineers, a quality profession of course, we have a situation here where engineers are being hired from overseas countries to work here in Australia on 457 visas, and they are not currently the subject of any independent reviews. That is worth keeping in mind in relation to this piece of legislation as well.

This profession and in fact the importance of this legislation is absolutely underlined by the infrastructure boom that is happening in Victoria right now. As a former industry minister I understand very critically that we have about 80 strategic projects either in delivery or being planned to be delivered over the forward period. That is an extraordinary — in fact, a record — building program here in Victoria, in part to cope with our record population growth as well. There are about 20 000 jobs being created during this period.

One of the very good things we have done as part of our policy settings here in Victoria is a program called the Major Project Skills Guarantee, where any project over the value of $20 million is subject to 10 per cent of the workforce being engaged being apprentices, trainees and cadets. This is quite literally creating thousands of new opportunities for young people. In fact when I was the industry minister it was one of the nicest components of the job to go out to projects like level crossing removals, the early works on the metro rail tunnel, the vertical school in South Melbourne and the West Gate tunnel and meet and talk to young engineering graduates about how excited they were to be working on some of the largest infrastructure being built in Victoria in a generation. You could tell that they were really chasing hard the opportunity to work on these particular projects. I think it is has been a terrific policy, and a policy that should never be thrown out in this state and that we should continue to ensure that young people get a start on our major infrastructure projects.

It is not a burden on industry. In fact when you talk to contractors and subcontractors on site they will tell you that they may have had some reservations about the burden that might be imposed by a policy like that but that it has absolutely been embraced because young people bring an energy to these projects which is a bit infectious.

In looking at this particular bill and what it does, it is clear that the objectives are really threefold. Firstly, to establish a mandatory statutory registration scheme for Victorian engineers — and the bill does strike the right balance ultimately. The second objective is to promote best practice in providing engineering services — we want to be a benchmark here in Victoria. Thirdly, we want to raise the profile of engineering because it is one of the great exports, professional services, in the Victorian context — something that was brought to the fore, I suppose, during the Land 400 negotiations. There you have got Rheinmetall, who have got engineers based in Victoria who do not want to move to Queensland as part of the winning bid; they want to stay here in Victoria. This is the state that produces more engineering graduates than any other state in Australia.

My support for this bill is really for the following reasons. This is a scheme that is not being imposed on the sector; this is a scheme that is being supported by the profession. It comes at a time of significant infrastructure boom. We cannot afford to have problems with our infrastructure in the future. Having the highest level of registration and certification will maintain standards. I think the bill does strike the right balance. Again, that only comes after significant consultation with the sector, and I think it is something that we are likely to see rolled out. If you come back, I suppose, to this place in two or three years, I think we will see registration in other states such as Western Australia and the ACT, where there are already some preliminary discussions going on about doing something that we are doing here in Victoria and that is being done in Queensland. This is a good bill. It should be supported, and I commend those that have brought this bill to the house.