Architectural Blatherations

The New South Wales Architects Act 2003: a Welcome Reform

top rule

The Good Oil

As in many federal nations, such as the United States or Switzerland, Australian architects are regulated on a state, not a national, basis. In Dr Garry's home state of New South Wales (NSW), Australia, architects enjoy title protection rather than practice protection. That is, almost anyone can do the work of an architect, but the title 'architect' is regulated by legislation. The United Kingdom has a similar system. The jurisdictions in the United States protect both title and practice.

In 2003 the government of Dr Garry's home state had a magnificent rush of blood to the head and passed a model Act regulating architects, replacing the sad old mishmash of a law dating back to 1921.

How did that happen?

The stimulus was the Australian Productivity Commission's investigation into the Australian architecture profession. Amongst many other findings, they gave a great whack to the various state architectural registration Boards and regulatory Acts:

  • Most complaints were architects whining about other architects.
  • The boards lacked transparency. Findings against architects were often difficult if not impossible to obtain.
  • Cronyism. The same cosy coterie of insiders occupied Board positions for year after year.
  • Lodging a complaint was extraordinarily difficult for the general public. The Boards were none to keen to admit that a complaint process even existed. The average bloke {joe} had to read the Act to even begin the complaint process.
  • The Acts (and Boards) did not protect the consumer. The only punitive powers the Acts had was to deprive people of the title 'architect'. That doesn't help consumers at all. To achieve redress against a bad architect, a client had to sue the architect; a common-law process that has nothing to do with the Acts. Moreover, the one ground that an architect could not be deregistered on was rank incompetence.

To its tremendous credit, the state government responded to these criticisms a few years down the track with a new act, the Architects Act 2003 (or try the official legislation), which came into force in June 2004. From our readings of the parliamentary proceedings in Hansard, the Act had minimal input from the usual cabal of nitwits at the Royal Australian Institute of Architects (RAIA). Free from the RAIA's usual ham-fisted half-witted sanctimoniously self-serving suggestions, the government managed to craft what we think is a fine piece of legislation.

What the Act does

The Act retains the fundamental principle of title, not practice, regulation. It allows non-architects (building designers) to work in the field. It enshrines a conduct of conduct and provides consumer redress.

It establishes a reformed board, the NSW Architects Registration Board (with a very wanky bandwidth-intensive and self-congratulatory homepage. We'd advise broadband). It also enshrines in regulation a code of professional conduct.

For the first time, it creates a substantial consumer protection against incompetent architects. We think these are the great virtues of the Act:

  • Consumers of architectural services now have rights in law. They have an alternate avenue for redress to expensive common-law proceedings.
  • The code of conduct applies to all registered architects and is embedded in law. In many countries, only members of the local union (AIA, RIBA, RAIC, etc) have a code.
  • Most of the code of conduct protects the client and the public. Compare this, for example to the American Institute of Architecture's (AIA) code of ethics, most of whose provisions regulate relations between fellow architects, and do nothing to protect clients.
  • The Board has a wide representation. Not just architects judging architects.
  • The Board is answerable to a higher authority. No more cosy crony decisions. Appeals can be made to an independent arbiter. Even the Minister can have a say.
  • Decisions must be available to the public, at no cost. No more hiding the dirty linen in the family closet.

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