As governments push for greater reform, the fire protection industry needs to engage more closely with state departments to deliver a better, safer community.
Five-time former Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, Tip O’Neill Jr is famously reported to have said that ‘all politics is local’. A master of his craft, O’Neill knew that national concepts need to be tailored to address the direct needs of voters if they are ever going to be supported.
Local engagement is very important, and the fire protection industry needs to expand its influence at a state and territory level if it is to deliver tangible reforms.
Back in 2018, the Building Confidence report, written by Professor Peter Shergold AC and Ms Bronwyn Weir, examined practices within the construction sector to see if it was delivering safe buildings for the community.
It recommended a variety of changes, and many included the proposal that state governments register those who design, construct and maintain fire safety systems.
At the time, Fire Protection Association Australia (FPA Australia) argued that recognising industry-based accreditation through co-regulatory arrangements was the way forward, and Shergold and Weir saw merit in such accreditation, stating that it could: ‘… ensure that the competencies of practitioners are tailored to their area of work and can alleviate state or territory regulators from the detailed assessment of applications.’
In other words, governments are best placed dictating the outcomes they want and getting industry to use its knowledge, experience and elbow-grease to achieve them.
In New South Wales these arguments found fertile ground, and FPA Australia’s Fire Protection Accreditation Scheme (FPAS) has been recognised in under a co-regulatory system for fire systems design and fire safety assessment.
However, in some other jurisdictions, there has been less enthusiasm for industry involvement, and licensing has been adopted as a preferred model. For example, in Queensland, a licensing model introduced by the Queensland Building and Construction Commission (QBCC) and negotiated by a small group of vested interests, is causing consternation for local practitioners and forcing experienced tradespeople to go back to school to study subjects that they could themselves teach.
While FPA Australia was invited to participate in initial discussions about the QBCC’s plans, we were quickly sidelined, leaving a large part of the industry ignored in the Government’s deliberations. We believe this is a missed opportunity, caused by regulators not clearly understanding the industry they are regulating and being captured by an unrepresentative segment of the market.
The lack of a strong ‘on the ground’ presence at a state and territory level appears somewhat to have hampered our effectiveness, by reducing our ability to engage directly with ministers and bureaucrats.
To resolve this, FPA Australia is rolling out a National Advocacy Framework – a network of state managers whose job it will be to re-establish those relationships. These experienced managers will use their contacts to open doors and position FPA Australia and its members more effectively on policy issues.
Working with the Technical team and our Local Coordinating Committee members, these managers will develop considered policy positions that can be presented to governments on behalf of the industry, and follow up with direct engagement with decision-makers.
The purpose of these roles is to give greater voice to our membership and to increase our influence, so that we can prevent poor policy outcomes in the future.
Industry needs to have a strong say in its own destiny. Any association that wants governments to be the sole arbiters of how its sector should operate is not representing the interests of members or the community.
FPA Australia is committed to protecting people and property and we recognise that there is a need for the industry to become more professional and better trained to improve safety. However, this should be done in partnership with government, not solely at its direction.
Our National Advocacy Framework will reinvigorate those partnerships and work collaboratively, so that the interests of government, the fire protection sector and the community will equally be protected.
For more information, go to fpaa.com.au