Building Quality: Where does Australia’s construction industry rank globally?

Simon Gould • 19/07/2019

The recent high profile cases of Opal and Mascot Towers in Sydney have started to raise the question; how bad is the quality of construction in Australia and where do we sit in the global rankings?

It’s a difficult one to answer using statistics as there is no global survey or league table for international build quality. There are plenty of statistics relating to construction industry output (and the USA, China and India top those lists) but these tend to relate to quantity, not quality.

Digging into the Numbers

 The Opal and Mascot Tower cases has prompted further research into this area. A recent study by Deakin University found that 85% of newly constructed multi-owner residential buildings in Australia had some form of defect. This number jumps to 97% for buildings in NSW.

Although these stats may seem worrying, they only paint half of the picture. In fact, the majority of those defects relate to watertightness and fire protection and, as a Building Consultant who has inspected 1,000+ commercial and residential properties in various different countries across Europe and the Asia Pacific, in my experience construction defects are present in all regions. So in that respect, Australia is on par with the rest of the world, meaning we don’t have a systemic issue on our hands despite what it seems by looking at contextless stats.

However, defects such as major structural cracking (see Opal Tower) and subsidence or foundation failure (thought to be the problem with the Mascot Towers but is still being investigated and yet to be confirmed at time of writing) are concerning. Such examples are rare and, when considered in isolation, don’t necessarily indicate an industry-wide problem. But as findings of the Shergold-Weir report explain, there are certain weaknesses within the industry that are affecting public confidence and need to be addressed.

How Can We Improve?

The answer to that is multi-faceted and complex and whilst I don’t profess to have the solution, I offer the following for consideration:

  1. Sub-standard building materials – Stamp out the use of sub-standard / poor quality materials produced in countries which don’t have the same manufacturing standards as Australia. This may require intervention at the government level but Architects, Engineers and Project Managers should all play a part in ensuring contractors adhere to project specifications and don’t sneak sub-standard building materials into developments to cut their costs. As the old saying goes, “you get what you pay for”. This applies to the construction industry just as much as any other.
  2. Include longer security bonds in contracts – Security bonds on construction contracts are usually released at the end of the Defects Liability Period (DLP), which is typically 12 months after practical completion. Whilst there may be other methods of recourse against a builder extending beyond the DLP (e.g. warranties, legislation, insurance, etc.), holding a longer-term form of security on the contract might encourage the builder to take a longer-term view on a development and thus mitigate the risk of the building owner(s) footing the bill for post-construction defect repairs.
  3. Invest in education – If the long-term goal is to improve quality in the construction industry, it starts with the quality of education and apprenticeships available to the talent pool. Australia has some excellent tertiary education facilities and investment in these needs to continue to ensure our tradies and consultants are some of the best qualified in the world.

Australia in the Spotlight

So where does Australia’s new building stock rank globally? Well, we certainly aren’t at the top of the ladder and there are some clear problems with quality in the residential unit sector. On the other hand, many of the issues faced on home soil are also being experienced overseas. For example, the combustible cladding issue is a global concern and our Trans-Tasman cousins can tell us all about the problems of leaky building syndrome. So, if I was to hazard an educated guess, I’d say we’d still make the top 20 in the world.

The disappointment comes when you consider that with all the resources, wealth and knowledge that Australia possesses, we could really be so much better.

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