We have something of a star guest on this week’s podcast. Sue Williams, our regular co-host, has allowed us to dip into her recordings of her interview with Building Commissioner David Chandler so you can hear the voice of the man who is turning strata development in NSW on its head.
And it has just occurred to me that some search engines might have brought Friends fans here, attracted by the name Chandler. So if Bing brought you here in search of Chandler Bing, our apologies. But, hey, you’re among friends.
However, before we get to the Commish, first we will talk about another consumer-focussed innovation, a plan to get the big insurers back to the table.
To be clear, insurance companies are still providing strata insurance for accidental damage etc in completed buildings, but they pulled out of insuring building defects nearly 20 years ago.
NSW Fair Trading is hoping the efforts of David Chandler will shore up confidence in a hitherto benighted industry, to the extent that insurers will feel claims for defective work are the exception rather than the rule.
Then we hear from the man himself and his plans to go on the front foot and “name and shame” not just sub-par buildings, but the professionals who have allowed them to be built that way.
Then as a little light relief, JimmyT looks back at a “Strata of Origin” debate he refereed between strata lawyers in NSW and Queensland, at the end of which he asked which of each other’s laws they wished they had.
You’ll hear (or read about) the NSW preferences in the podcast but Jimmy neglected to mention the Queensland strata experts were envious of NSW’s 2 per cent defects bond.
Jimmy does, however, mention a couple of quirky strata laws from other states.
And finally we look at the new Mirvac development at the former Channel Nine studios at Willoughby (not Chatswood as stated) and recall the night we went to dinner with recently departed newsreader Brian Henderson during which copious amounts of wine were consumed.
That’s all in this week’s podcast.
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TRANSCRIPT IN FULL
Bit of a David Chandler fest this week, Sue Williams?
Yes, well, it’s been two years since he was appointed, so I sat down and had a chat with him about his term in office and what he’s achieved, or what he’s not achieved.
Okay, we’ll be talking about that later. We’ll be talking about (maybe), the big insurers coming back in and we’ll be talking about a thing I did about the differences between strata law in Queensland and New South Wales. And, what’s happening with the Channel 9 studios up in
That’s a lot to get in, so we’d better get on with it. I’m Jimmy Thomson, I write the Flat Chat column for the Australian Financial Review.
And I’m Sue Williams, I write about property for Domain.
And this is the Flat Chat Wrap.
Okay Sue, you did a big, big feature for Domain magazine; an interview with David Chandler. We will get into that later, but part of it was a thing about the big insurers coming back in to insure buildings. What’s the story there?
I spoke to the Minister, Kevin Anderson. He was saying basically, David Chandler has done such a good job… He’s really helping restore a lot of confidence back into the new apartments industry. Also, because he’s had such wide-ranging powers, he’s had the opportunity to really shut down buildings that aren’t going well and make sure everything is going to be much better in future. He’s introduced that tool to measure risk in buildings as well (which developers will sign up to), so that we can see their DNA; a building’s DNA. So, he thinks there’s so much confidence back now in the apartment industry, that insurers are now queuing up to come back to insure apartment buildings over three storeys high and as you know, we’ve had no home warranty insurance on those buildings for 18 years now. Which is incredible!
I mean, at the moment, the way things work is if you have defects in your building; major defects within the first six years, I think, then you only get the insurance provided by the government, if the developer has gone bust or died, otherwise, you have to pursue them through the courts. So bringing the insurers back in, will that mean that you just go to whoever it is, CHU or whoever, and say ‘hey, we’ve got defects in the building we need fixed; will you pay for it?’
I think so and then, I think it will be up to the insurer to pursue the developer.
There’s a bit of an anomaly here, where you’re thinking, if buildings are going to be that much better built, do we really need the insurance? You know, is it just a way of insurance companies making a bit more money? I’m sure they’re quite happy to make money, but they obviously want to do it, not in a field where the risk is so high, because as we know, with self-certification, and all the other dodgies that have gone on, that’s why the insurers pulled out in New South Wales and the rest of Australia, because the buildings just couldn’t be trusted. So if you’ve got a more trustworthy building, what do you think is the scenario where having the insurance would be necessary?
Well, I think it’s always a fantastic backstop, insurance, because you never quite know, even if the builder or the developer has done a pretty good job. You just never quite know what’s going to happen. There might be one subby, who’s made a mistake somewhere along the way and nobody’s picked it up. This will give people real peace of mind. It will just mean that we’ll all be much happier about buying apartments; new apartments, off-the-plan again, because I think many people have been incredibly nervous about it, because of Mascot Tower, because of the Opal Tower.
Yeah and not just that. I mean, it’s all these stories… You know, all these stories that appear every other day, or they used to, about apartment blocks that were just falling apart and the developer had gone off and changed the name of their company, or whatever.
That was kind of funny as well… David Chandler this week, did another interview, in which he talked about ASIC and said that they aren’t doing enough about builders and developers who are phoenixing and he got into a little bit of trouble, because he said they should put on their ‘man pants.’
Right, which is funny!
Absolutely! People accused him of being sexist, but I think that was a very funny comment.
‘That person pants.’
That’s right. It doesn’t quite have the same ring, does it?
I mean, it does kind of indicate that David Chandler is closer to our generation, than maybe the ‘me too’ generation, but it’s funny. He’s right, you know, if what he’s basically saying is ‘grow a pair.’ I mean, they’re all sexist these days. ‘Man up; show a bit of spine,’ I suppose, would be neutral. ‘Toughen up.’ They’re not quite as colorful though, are they really? No, they’re not, but ‘put on their man pants;’ well, it certainly got some attention. To get back to the insurance thing; I guess it’s a case of things like… There are buildings in New South Wales that have combustible cladding, as they now call it, which apparently was approved at the time it was installed, and it was only later found to be… So that’s a case where, in the absence of a developer to take to court over it, or if a developer’s saying “well, I’m not liable, because the building standard says it was okay,” then the insurer could step in and say “alright, well, we’ll pick up the tab for this.” Or, if somewhere like (and this would not apply to Mascot Towers), but somewhere like that, where there’s a possibility that an external force had some bearing on the ability of the building to keep standing, the insurer (and this is a very rare event). The problem has been that the incidents weren’t that rare. It was almost like it was endemic; you buy a new apartment block, you got a 50/50 chance there’s going to be serious defects in it. I guess that’s where the insurance comes in. It’d be interesting to see if it actually happens. Insurers tend to be very cautious people and they’re not going to jump in there, until they feel pretty sure that their money is not going to be wasted.
Kevin Anderson, I think was saying how he’s putting together a panel now, an expert panel, to examine the whole issue, because they’re offering decennial liability insurance.
What does that mean?
Ten years. It would have been easier, if they’d just said ten years. So that’s what they’re talking about offering and so he’s getting together a panel and he said they seem to be really keen, which is gratifying for him, because he’s part of the whole system, which is…
Well, it’s self-perpetuating isn’t it? If you can get insurance for buildings, it makes people more confident about buying them, which means that it generates the right kind of building being built and fewer crap buildings going up and the dodgy developers will be squeezed out. What it took was a circuit breaker and that circuit breaker turns out to be David Chandler.
As someone called him, ‘the absolute disrupter.’
So, you had a long chat with him and did a big interview with him in the Domain magazine and we’ll hear David, in his own words, after this.
And, we’re back. Sue, you spoke to David Chandler at great length and we have a few clips of him in that interview. What were the main things that came out of that, for you?
I think, first of all, he was saying that he really wants to try and change the culture of the construction industry in New South Wales. He wants to lead by example. He wants to praise the good developers and he wants to get rid of the bad developers. I think this first clip is of him talking about how he wants to kind of persuade people, to do the good thing.
To do the right thing and that’s his big hope for the future, getting people to want to do the right thing. This is David Chandler.
David Chandler 08:45
I’ve tried to be what I call the ‘mentor.’ I don’t want my time as Building Commissioner to be regarded as one of fear. I would think that those people that are engaging and starting to transform are saying “it has been a bit of an epiphany for us and we are taking it all on board” and so I think those people are writing to me and saying that they do understand that they’ve got to transform. A good example of that would be to talk to Chris Abou at Eastern Pacific, a young Lebanese building company, where their first approach to me was they just rang up and said “could we come and see you, Commissioner, and we’d like you to come and have a look at one of our jobs. So don’t select the job based on your risk criteria; just come at our invitation and have a look at it and tell us what you think.”
Well, that’s interesting, that developers came to him and said ‘look, can you come and have a look at our project, because we think we’re doing the right thing.’
That’s right and I talked to Chris Abou as well, the developer who invited him over and he said his heart was in his throat, all the time that David Chandler was there, but he said it was fantastic. He’s really keen on doing the right thing, and he said there’s no point in us being in the building industry, if we’re doing stuff wrong. He wants to know and he wants to learn and he wants to make sure that he’s right on the mark. That’s a commendable attitude, really.
One of the other things that came out of your interview, was a big change at Fair Trading. I mean, as I have complained, many, many times over many, many years, people go to Fair Trading, hoping that they’re going to get some assistance; they’re going to get advice and often come away feeling very disappointed. You know, basically they’re told “well, this is what the law says, so interpret that.” People are going, “I’ve got this problem and should I go to NCAT and what are my chances of success?” Fair Trading is saying (has in the past said), “well, here’s what the law says; you can work it out for yourself.” That’s all changing now; how is that changing, Sue?
That’s right, because they did a survey, and they found so many buildings; so many new buildings, had defects. They kind of looked into it and found that only 19% of those were reporting them to the Office of Fair Trading. So there was, you know, 80-81%, who weren’t, were saying nothing. He said, we’ve kind of assumed that the others are either hiding their defects (because they don’t want prospective buyers to find out about the defects), which is unlawful, because you’ve got an obligation to inform them and you’ve got an obligation as an Owners Corporation to fix the common property. Or, people are negotiating themselves with developers (which is never very successful), or they’re hiring lawyers at huge cost and the proceedings can go on for years and years and years.
And no guarantee of success.
Let’s hear what David had to say about that, himself.
David Chandler 11:48
So we’ve now started to go back and talk to Owners Corporations and say to them “well, why? Why aren’t you reporting these things to the Office of Fair Trading?” There’s three types of answers. The first one is that ‘we don’t think the Office of Fair Trading really has a satisfactory basis for us to engage and report. The process on the website; the portal, it’s clumsy and it almost wears you out, before you get there.’ I don’t have to take any bullets for that; my job is to transform the regulator, so I’m not daily responsible for the regulator’s performance. That’s the way the Minister wanted it, so that I could actually not have to be in the line and therefore take all the flack every day, but to go and say “what are the things that aren’t working and how are we going to fix them?” One of the things that’s happened in the last three or four months, is that we built a new entry point for Owners Corporations to report serious defects in the key building in the common property and we’ve set up a desk, singularly there to triage those types of complaints. Now, the balance that you’ve got to run is, we’ve tried to make that knowledge available to strata managers, because the condition of being able to report one of those items, is that you have to be the authorized member; representative of the Owners Corporation. You can’t just be a disgruntled lot owner, because otherwise, if we opened up the accessibility of that to everybody, you would run into a large number of people who just simply aren’t happy with the Owners Corporation executive and, there’s a lot of that tension out there.
Yeah, that’s interesting, that it’s got to come from an Owners Corporation or a strata manager. It can’t just be your Joe Bloggs in the building, saying “hey, I’ve noticed these cracks in the floor. I want Fair Trading to come in and shut the building down.”
No, you can understand that, really. So it’s got to come from a member of the strata committee, or from the strata manager; somebody who’s authorized to speak on behalf of the Owners Corporation. You can understand that, because there’s so much work out there; if everybody took their grudges to him, it will be kind of quite hard to organize.
Yeah, they’d soon use up their budget. There would be a big queue outside the Fair Trading offices.
And on the developer side, David Chandler still seems to be wanting to do more, as well. I mean, I think he’s quite gratified, that a lot of certifiers have now closed up shop.
Yeah, that’s right, and have quit the industry. A lot of developers have also quit the industry; obviously the ones who are nervous about being found out about what they’re doing. So on the developer side, he is now getting ready to name and shame. everybody involved with bad buildings. Before, he would say ‘I went to a building the other day and I discovered that it had been shored up underneath, in a really faulty way, because the structure had been done badly,” but now he’s actually saying ‘no, I’m going to name everybody.’
David Chandler 14:54
I did a little video and I posted that a couple of weeks back, or maybe a month back… What’s fascinating about it, Sue, is that as of yesterday, it’s had 176,000 views. So you think that when you do a post like that, that everybody starts to get the message and clearly, there’s a lot that are not, because I did it in a way where I didn’t call out the developer; I just simply call out the actual item, the exhibit. So if you look at all the posts that occur after that, it’s everybody saying ‘oh, that’s terrible. Oh, my goodness, you know, the builder should be kicked in the ass and what was the engineer doing? And what am I doing, etc.’ I end up with all the armchair commentators, commentating on the exhibit and the perpetrator really stays below the radar. What I have elected to do is to use the project that I went to yesterday, as the first exhibit, where I’m going to call out all the players.
So, name them all; name the developer, the builders…
David Chandler 15:51
The developer, the builder, the architect, the engineer, the certifier and others.
So, the developer, the builders, the architect, the engineer, the certifiers; they’re all on notice?
I wonder if any of them are going ‘oh, god! I hope he doesn’t find out about this building!’ Well, you know, that’s the way the professional standards come in, is where the professionals involved turn around to (ultimately), the developer and say ‘you’re asking me to sign off on something that I know is not good and that’s my reputation that’s going to be on the line, as well as yours, so find somebody else to do it.’
Because, you think architects; they might design a really fantastic building, everything might be great and they can see the developer may be shortchanging every point of the way. Rather than just go along with it (because they want their name attached to the building), they’re going to have to start speaking up and moving away from those buildings, probably.
Well, that happened in the building in which we sit, right now. The original developer sold the development; the new developer pulled $5 million out of the development… Just put that in their pocket, started cutting back on all the standards and when the architect complained and said ‘this is not what we designed,’ they said ‘well, you’re fired; off you go. We don’t need you anymore; we’ve got your drawings.’ And that was how it worked, so hopefully, that’s another thing that will change. I do recall David Chandler saying a couple of weeks ago, that they were looking at the areas where there was the same architects, the same engineers and the same builders, who were building the crap buildings. Now, they were looking for buildings that had those names attached and really zeroing in on them; putting them under the microscope and saying ‘well, what are you doing now?’ Again, that can only help.
Because they found that the shoddy developers were all going after the same shoddy certifiers.
The cabal of evil, really.
So, he’s got a good run from you and we’ll run that feature in the Flat Chat website this week and we’ve already got the one about the insurance. That’s already up, so there’s plenty of reading there, when you finish listening to this. Don’t go away, because last week, I hosted (refereed), a debate between New South Wales lawyers and Queensland lawyers, about the differences between the laws and which was better. One of the things I put to them at the end of the debate, was a question of which of each other’s laws they wish they had in their state and it was quite interesting to hear what they said. We’ll talk about that, after this.
So, what was the laws that they wanted?
Well, it was interesting; one of the things we kind of danced around, I have to say, was the presale of management rights. The Queensland lawyers are really sensitive about that, partly because they read some of the stuff I’ve written about it, where I describe it as legalized corruption. It’s part of their legal system and it’s one of these things, I think; anything you walk past, is what you endorse. So, if they’re not fighting it (and neither of these guys are involved in fighting it, as far as I know)… One of them was a former Commissioner of body corporate law in Queensland; they’re not fighting it, which kind of means they endorse it. Even if they, in their heart of hearts, know that it’s not a good thing, they kind of have to implicitly support it. We kind of danced around that a bit, but interesting… The two things that the New South Wales lawyer was keen on that Queensland has that we don’t have… They have a Commissioner for body corporate, which we don’t.
No, we’re a long way from that.
And that office, that Office of the Commissioner, actually helps people who’ve got problems in their strata schemes, apart from pre-sale of management rights. So, that’s that’s one thing (enviously looking north) and the other one is towing. You can tow illegally parked cars in Queensland, you cannot do that in New South Wales.
Well, that would be something that would be great to introduce here.
I can just imagine the pitch battles and punch-it-up. I think under the right circumstances…
It would be an amazing deterrent, I think, for people parking in apartment buildings, if they know they run the risk of being towed.
Well, I did mention that building we know, where they put up signs saying ‘illegally parked cars will be wheeled-clamped,’ which is illegal. The committee members take it in turns to park their cars in a prominent position with a wheel clamp on it, just underneath the sign, so that people go ‘oh, my god! They do do it here!’ That’s a much more effective thing, than a bylaw reminder, I think.
I don’t know, but it’s a hassle, isn’t it, to actually put their cars there all the time and wheel-clamp them, I would imagine.
When I was thinking about this debate, I started looking at other state laws and found a couple of things that really surprised me. Somebody had written to me in the Flat Chat forum, saying ‘I have been told that I’m not invited to our committee meetings and you know, I used to live in New South Wales and you could go along to committee meetings, but you weren’t entitled to speak, unless the committee voted.’ So I checked that in Victoria; there’s no right to attend committee meetings, in Victoria. You’ve got a right to attend general meetings; committee meetings, they can invite you, or not. That was something that surprised me. I thought that was a bit of an oversight.
It’s kind of an oddity, isn’t it really?
Not as odd as Tasmania, because somebody wrote to me and said ‘I can’t find a definition of a special resolution in Tasmanian strata law,’ because they wanted a bylaw passed. So, again, I did a bit of investigation. There is no such thing as a special resolution in Tasmania (not that I could find). There’s a unanimous resolution and there is a general, simple majority and here’s the thing; unless the general meeting passes a motion to prevent specific things from being decided by committee, a committee in Tasmania can decide anything that doesn’t require a unanimous resolution, including passing bylaws. So, the committee in Tasmania can pass bylaws.
That would be really interesting to see a piece about all these different anomalies, or maybe you’re gonna write a column about it?
Maybe I am! I was just wondering, what am I going to write about this week? I was thinking of writing about timber floors, but maybe I can do that another time and another piece of news that’s come to our attention this week, is the redevelopment of the Channel 9 site in Chatswood. We’ll talk about that, after this.
And, we are back. Sue, the bulldozers have moved into the old Channel 9 studios in
Chatswood (corr. Willoughby), I believe?
Yep, they have and the Sydney Channel 9 headquarters is now no more and it’s going to be the site of a massive new master-planned housing estate. It’s being built by Mirvac, being developed by Mirvac and it’s kind of interesting, because people probably know that Brian Henderson, the former Channel 9 (much-loved), newsreader, died the other week, sadly. We’ve had personal experience with him, haven’t we? I did a few stories with him and we went out to dinner one night and I did an interview over dinner and I think quite a lot of alcohol was consumed. The intro for the story was about; kind of like a shocking story about Brian Henderson, that wasn’t really true at all.
You said that he did three lines of cocaine and drank half a bottle of whiskey, before he did any news broadcast.
That’s right and so, it was kind of a joke intro, but I phoned him up beforehand and said ‘look, are you okay with this?’ And he came back and said ‘yes, I think it’s great!’ I mean, he had a fantastic sense of humour, even though his on-air persona was obviously quite straight-laced, although very genial at the same time, but lovely man, so he’ll be missed.
Did you tell me the other day that they’re naming a park after him?
Yes, so they’re calling the main park at the development; the development’s called ‘Nine.’ The main park is called ‘Henderson Park.’ They’ve got permission from his family to call it ‘Henderson Park,’ which is lovely.
I misread or misheard what you said, when you were telling me this and I thought you told me they were burying Brian Henderson’s heart at the Channel 9 development. Well, it’s not a Channel 9 development, it’s a Mirvac development.
That’s right. We’ve all been to that there; we’ve all kind of appeared on some of their shows at various times and I’ve been to the props and costume department; that was always an amazing place and that’s now become the display suite. Anyone can visit it now, if you want to go have a look at the development. And also, do you remember, one of the real landmarks of the North Shore was always the Channel 9…
No, the big transmission tower. They’ve taken a long time to dismantle that, but they kind of kept it and they’re using parts of that now, to build a children’s playground development. They’re going to be using parts of that steel, to repurpose it in that way.
Presumably, not quite so high. The slippery dip, or whatever you call it, won’t be 300 meters high.
No. That’s kind of kind of nice and I think they’re talking about possibly naming some streets on the development after certain (probably Channel 9), personalities. You know, Kerri-Anne Kennerley Avenue.
The Graham Kennedy…
Yep, Graham Kennedy.
See, they all start with K. The Kennedy culdesac?
Ray Martin muse?
All sorts of possibilities.
I think none of them are going to happen; I can tell you that right now. Okay, Ray Martin Rd; got a bit of a ring to it. Oh, gosh, we got through a lot today. Really interesting to hear David Chandler, speaking in his own words, even if he isn’t talking about man pants. Thank you very much for listening and Sue, thank you for coming along and bringing that great interview with David Chandler with you.
Fantastic. Thanks, Jimmy.
And we’ll talk to you again next week. Bye.
Thanks for listening to the Flat Chat Wrap podcast. You’ll find links to the stories and other references on our website, flat- chat.com.au And if you haven’t already done so, you can subscribe to this podcast completely free on Apple podcasts, Google podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or your favorite pod catcher. Just search for Flat Chat Wrap with a W, click on subscribe, and you’ll get this podcast every week without even trying. Thanks again. Talk to you again next week.