Engineers Australia has made a detailed submission to the New South Wales (NSW) Government, with a view to ensuring that any implemented registration scheme is practical, affordable and consistent across jurisdictions.
Professional development requirements, registration fees, insurance issues and the scope of engineering work covered by registration were among the topics addressed in the wide-ranging submission.
Among Engineers Australia’s recommendations is that continuing professional development requirements be made the same across jurisdictions, with many engineers needing to register in more than one state.
It also recommends that, as with the Queensland model, the registration be co-regulatory as well as co-funded by government, as the “ultimate beneficiary of the registration schemes is the NSW community”.
Fees are recommended to be charged on a cost recovery basis and “commensurate with those set for similar registrations in other Australian jurisdictions”.
The submission was compiled following engagement with Engineers Australia’s members, and includes a section on insurance, which “strongly recommends that the government investigate the effect of the insurance requirement from the Act on the industry before finalising the Regulations”.
“A core concern is the extended duty of care and uncapped liability. The insurance requirement could have a significant effect on many companies which may not be able to stay in the market,” the submission reads.
“Feedback provided to Engineers Australia by members is that, in many cases, companies (especially small ones) do not have meaningful choice for their insurance products. The requirement to obtain a suitable insurance cover, alongside onerous contracts, are leading to a conflict between policy objectives implemented via the Regulations and commercial reality.”
Further recommendations cover classes of registration, the compliance declaration scheme and qualifications, experience, knowledge and skills.
State of play
Unlike “medical practitioner” or “architect”, “engineer” is not a protected title in Australia, but things are slowly changing.
Compulsory registration, which is overwhelmingly supported by the profession, is being introduced in a growing number of states.
On 1 July this year, new laws will come into effect gradually moving towards compulsory registration in New South Wales (NSW) and Victoria.
The NSW Design and Building Practitioners Act — a response to structural failures at Opal Tower and Mascot Towers — will cover civil, geotechnical, structural, electrical, mechanical and fire safety engineering.
Draft regulation was released in November 2020, and has been met with concern over its narrowness, as it restricts application of the Act to Class 2 buildings or buildings with a Class 2 part. Class 2 buildings are primarily high-rise residential towers. Nine Newspapers reported in December that broadening the registration scheme beyond the building industry would be considered no sooner than July.
Engineers Australia’s submission suggests that narrow application “is not in the best interests of the community, nor in the spirit for which the Act was passed by the NSW Parliament in 2020”.
Across the country
Compulsory registration recognises the important role engineers play, and moves the country closer to recognising the critical nature of the profession.
Registration is required in Canada, the USA, New Zealand, Singapore, Japan, South Korea and the European Union.
Queensland has led the way locally, with registration enforced since 1930. Statutory body the Board of Professional Engineers Queensland co-regulates this with the state government.
Registered Professional Engineer of Queensland status allows the state’s engineers to call themselves a “professional engineer” and anybody other than this providing engineering services can be fined up to $200,000.
Victoria’s Professional Engineers Registration Act requires registration to provide professional engineering services from the state, unless (as with the NSW law) the engineer is under supervision or following a prescriptive standard. The registration scheme will be phased in over two-and-a-half years, and will cover civil, structural, electrical, mechanical and fire safety engineering.
Compulsory registration for engineers enjoys a high level of support within and outside of the profession.
One poll of Engineers Australia’s NSW members in July 2019 found 91.5 per cent were in favour of compulsory registration. The same year, the organisation commissioned OmniPoll to gauge public sentiment, finding that 88 per cent of 1222 adult-age respondents believed engineers should be registered.
In The Case For Statutory Registration, five key benefits are identified:
- Advice to the market about the competence and experience of practitioners;
- Minimising the health, safety and economic risk associated with unqualified or incompetent persons;
- Recognising the “academic qualifications, cumulative and current experience, competencies and commitment to ethical conduct and continuing professional development” of those who have achieved registration;
- Improved international mobility based on good standards of practice; and
- Legislative efficiency through common standards across states and territories.
Engineers Australia’s preference is for a national compulsory registration system — building on the voluntary National Engineering Register, which it began in 2015 — and aligning with Queensland’s and Victoria’s schemes.
The organisation has sought compulsory registration for over two decades. This appears to be some way off, but progress in NSW and Victoria are small steps forward as part of a long process.
Read Engineers Australia’s submission here.