Australia: Victoria moves to introduce a registration system for engineers

In brief - Act will initially affect structural, civil, mechanical, electrical and fire safety engineering disciplines

A new registration scheme for engineers is due to be implemented in Victoria following passage of the Engineers Registration Bill 2018 (Vic) (the Bill). The volume of major infrastructure projects in Victoria, and the increasingly globalised nature of engineering, has prompted the move to standardise the regulation of the engineering profession.

Currently, Queensland is the only state to have a comprehensive, mandatory registration system in place for all engineers, under the Professional Engineers Act 2002 (Qld).

Purpose and coverage of the Engineers Registration Bill

For decades, the engineering industry has been largely unregulated, which has been a cause for concern for many, given the critical importance of engineering calculations and design to a wide range of infrastructure and construction projects. There have been calls by certain groups such as Engineers Australia, to implement registration standards for engineers, similar to the schemes that exist for lawyers and doctors.

The Bill will establish a scheme for the registration of professional engineers in Victoria. A common registration system will aim to raise standards across the engineering profession and promote best practice. This will also reduce the risk of loss and harm to the public by increasing accountability and safety on projects.

Initially five key disciplines will be regulated: structural, civil, mechanical, electrical and fire safety engineering. It is anticipated that additional areas will progressively be added to expand coverage of the scheme.

The Bill passed the Victorian upper house on 1 May 2018. The Act will come into operation on 1 July 2020, if not earlier proclaimed.

Business Licensing Authority will determine who is fit and proper to be registered, and have power to impose licence conditions

The Victorian scheme will use a co-regulatory registration model that will be managed by the Victorian Building Authority (VBA) and the Business Licensing Authority (BLA) with assistance from Consumer Affairs Victoria (CAV).

The process of registration will enable the BLA to approve registration of individuals for a period of three years. Various accredited assessment entities will initially assess whether the individual has the required qualifications and experience relevant for registration in a particular discipline of engineering. The BLA will determine whether the individual is a fit and proper person to provide the relevant engineering services.

The BLA will have authority to impose conditions on a licence. Renewal of registration will be subject to the individual achieving a specified total hours of continuous professional development over the foregoing three years.

Current Victorian registration requirements, transitional arrangements and obligations under the new Act

Currently in Victoria, registration requirements exist for civil, mechanical, electrical and fire safety engineers who are engaged in the building industry and are "building practitioners" under the Building Act 1993 (Vic). Transitional arrangements under the new Act, connected with engineers' registration under the Building Act, will apply. There will also be endorsement by the BLA of registrations that satisfy certain Building Act requirements.

It is hoped that the introduction of registration will improve standards within the engineering industry. Further, it is expected to improve opportunities for "exporting" engineering services outside Victoria, as well as managing standards of engineers from other jurisdictions who provide services in Victoria.

Under the new Act, a person:

  • must not provide professional engineering services in a particular engineering discipline unless registered as a practising engineer in that area or unless they provide the services under the direct supervision of a registered engineer practising in that area of engineering, and
  • must not hold themselves out as able to provide professional engineering services in a particular discipline unless registered as a practising engineer in that area of engineering

An individual who works across multiple disciplines of engineering must register in each of those regulated areas. Fines of up to nearly $80,000 may be imposed for an offence of contravening those prohibitions.

Requirements in other jurisdictions for registration of engineers

The Victorian scheme has been modelled on the Queensland system of registration, which entails registration as a Registered Professional Engineer of Queensland (RPEQ) under the regulation of the Board of Professional Engineers of Queensland.

Other jurisdictions are yet to implement a comprehensive registration system for engineers.

In New South Wales, a range of engineers may apply to be accredited and registered under the Building Professionals Act 2005 (NSW) for the purposes of issuing compliance certificates for designs and constructed elements in certain developments. The relevant disciplines of engineering it covers include: structural engineering, fire safety engineering and geotechnical engineering.

Extra-territorial application?

It is anticipated that the Victorian registration scheme will have wide-reaching application. It is expected that the Victorian scheme will have similar reach to the Queensland scheme: registration requirements would apply not only for engineering services carried out within the jurisdiction, but also for services carried out interstate and destined for the jurisdiction or for services exported from the jurisdiction.

Benefits and barriers of Victorian engineers' registration requirements

In this day and age where professional services are increasingly provided from remote locations, and by a mobile profession, there is a question about what benefit a stand-alone Victorian registration system will have, such as for Victorian engineers wishing to work elsewhere, and for Victorian projects attracting engineers usually based elsewhere. Engineers' professional representation organisations will doubtless create a pathway from the new Victorian system of registration to (optional) registration with international engineers' registration bodies.

For engineers engaged on shorter-term projects or who are constantly shifting between jurisdictions, the Victorian registration requirements may prove onerous and something of a barrier to undertaking Victorian work without mechanisms for reciprocal recognition.

Is a national engineers' registration scheme warranted?

Though the Act, once in force, will enable engineers to be held to minimum standards of qualifications, standing and experience in Victoria, a national system of regulation would be more logical and beneficial. Engineers Australia, the administrator of the voluntary National Engineering Register, has been a vocal proponent of such an approach. However, as yet, there does not appear to be any Federal government support for such a scheme.

The Australian Capital Territory and WA governments are understood now to be considering compulsory registration schemes in light of the Victorian reforms.

Given the infrastructure boom, particularly in Victoria and NSW, regulation and accountability within the engineering profession are an important part of promoting the safe and efficient completion of infrastructure and other construction projects. The Victorian Register of Professional Engineers is aimed at strengthening Victoria's engineering industry by improving opportunities for work across borders, and to ensure that the quality and integrity of the profession is upheld.

Catherine Bell Dilusha Jayasekara
Construction and engineering
Colin Biggers & Paisley

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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