Auditor-General's overview

Inquiry into the Plumbers, Gasfitters, and Drainlayers Board: Follow-up report.

In September 2008, the then Minister for Building and Construction (the Minister) wrote to the then Auditor-General to ask whether he would inquire into the way the Plumbers, Gasfitters, and Drainlayers Board (the Board) was carrying out its statutory functions – in particular, its registration and licensing functions. The Minister was concerned about the number and nature of complaints received about the Board, many of which suggested that the Board was not carrying out its core functions adequately.

The work of the Board is important. Through its registration and licensing processes, it controls entry to the plumbing, gasfitting, and drainlaying trades. Effective regulation of these trades is important for public safety. These trades are also important economically because they are necessary for an effective building and construction industry. Equally, the Board's decisions are important for the people who need licences to be able to work, and for the businesses that employ them.

We agreed to the request from the Minister and published the findings in my 2010 report Inquiry into the Plumbers, Gasfitters, and Drainlayers Board. The report identified problems throughout most aspects of the Board's work, including the need to embed basic administrative law disciplines into the Board's everyday work and decision-making. I made 15 recommendations that, if acted on, would address the most significant problems that I found. I noted that the Board had already started to address some of those problems.

In late 2013, my staff looked at the progress that the Board had made. The Board has taken my recommendations seriously and has worked hard to address them. The action that it has taken has moved it onto a more sure administrative and legal footing.

Overall, we saw much less to concern us during our follow-up work than we did in the period preceding my 2010 report. Problems were fewer, as the Board had addressed many legacy issues. The Board is much more transparent and has revised some policies that were weak or potentially unlawful. It has improved the quality of its examinations. Candidates achieve pass rates of about 70% and higher, compared to about 30% at the time of our inquiry.

The number of complaints about the Board by tradespeople since our last review was small, and few were about recent matters. Consultation with the industry had become more robust. Staff reported a healthier organisational culture.

However, my Office continues to receive complaints each year from plumbers and gasfitters. Most of the correspondence we receive is directly or indirectly about costs, and the effect that they have on tradespeople's livelihoods.

There is no doubt that the costs of regulation fall heavier on the group of trades that the Board regulates than some other regulated workers. The Board regulates a much smaller number of tradespeople than, for example, the Electrical Workers Registration Board or the Building Practitioners Board. It is entirely funded by tradespeople, and it has a unique role in prosecuting unregistered and unlicensed people carrying out unlawful work. The result is that costs to plumbers, gasfitters, and drainlayers are higher than the costs for some other tradespeople.

As the Board struggles to balance carrying out its responsibilities at a cost that is acceptable to the trades, its relationship with some tradespeople remains strained and less than productive.

I make no further recommendations in this report because I am satisfied that the Board now has the arrangements in place to properly govern and manage. However, I consider legality is an aspect that the Board needs to keep focusing on, due to the complexity of the Plumbers, Gasfitters, and Drainlayers Act 2006. I also encourage the Board to review its Supervision Policy in the next few months.

I thank the Board and its secretariat for their help during this follow-up work. I also acknowledge the tradespeople and representatives of other sector organisations who also contributed.

Signature - LP

Lyn Provost
Controller and Auditor-General

21 May 2014

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