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  • Writer's pictureFiona O'Hehir

Families left homeless after new homes found to be uninhabitable

CONTENT WARNING: The following story deals with the topic of suicide, which some readers may find distressing.

Many Australians wait all their lives to build their dream home.

Several have come close, only to be devastated because they cannot live in it.

Anne from Melbourne is one of those unlucky people.

She contracted a builder for the townhouses she planned to live in with her entire family.

After a dispute with the builder, she was locked out from even visiting the building site.

"I wanted a waterproofing specialist to go on-site because we were very concerned about the walls. The builder refused us access," she told 60 Minutes.

Anne has spent the last three years lodging 14 complaints to the Victorian Building Authority, but the regulator left them unresolved.

"I felt like nothing was on my side," she told Christine Ahern.

"I've provided evidence to the VBA, but they didn't come out (to investigate). They didn't do anything."

A similar nightmare is happening across Australia, with families finding their brand new homes are riddled with defects and unsafe to live in.

In Victoria, the watchdog that oversees the building industry is in crisis.

The VBA employs inspectors tasked to ensure compliance on building sites.

Former and current VBA inspectors have told 60 Minutes they've been encouraged to cut corners.

A former building inspector has told 60 Minutes the VBA is placing unnecessary stress on its workers by measuring their success on the number of inspections they fulfil, regardless of the size of the building project.

The workplace was so toxic, one inspector took his own life.

Rob Karkut can be heard in audio recordings revealing the ordeal he went through as an inspector for the VBA.

In one recording, he could be heard telling his managers, "You're becoming unrealistic with your expectations. I've got a diary full of inspections. Yesterday, I went to seven jobs."

When 60 Minutes asked Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews about the failures of the building watchdog, the premier said he was only just made aware of it.

The VBA refused to be interviewed for this story but sent a written response.

Multiple investigations are currently underway looking into their practices.

Statement from the Victorian Building Authority

In 2020, the VBA undertook a disciplinary action process in respect to the work of Obaid Naqebullah as the building practitioner responsible for the construction of 81 sole occupancy units in Clayton, for which his company, Shangri-La Construction Pty Ltd was the contractor.

A VBA decision in August 2020 to suspend Mr Naqebullah's registration for three months, to reprimand him and to impose penalties of $20,000 was the subject of an application for merit review in the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT).

VCAT varied the VBA's decision, to remove the suspension, to increase the penalty to $25,000, to undertake training and to personally attend mandatory stage inspections for all Shangri-La building sites for 12 months.

All VBA staff have access to counselling via our Employee Assistance Program and this is promoted widely throughout the organisation.

We continue to support our people and embed values and behaviours that ensure the VBA is a safe workplace.

The VBA works with its Audit and Inspection teams on performance expectations.

Statement from Sonya Kilkenny, Victorian Minister for Planning

Victorians rightly expect their homes to be built to approved building standards and built to last – and that the regulator is functioning appropriately and effectively.

I have been considering the VBA's performance of its important regulatory functions and have sought advice from my department regarding the governance and management of the VBA.

I will have more to say once I have received and considered that advice.

The VBA is responsible for undertaking regular building and plumbing inspections to protect consumers and ensure that work being carried out is safe and compliant, as set out in the VBA's Statement of Expectations.

The Minister has been meeting with the VBA, industry stakeholders, unions and the Building System Review Expert Panel regarding reform to strengthen Victoria's building industry, enhance consumer protections and build confidence in the building system.

This includes measures to improve the performance of the VBA's important regulatory role.

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