It seems inconceivable so soon after the leaky buildings debacle that we are slithering down a similar slippery pipe thanks to this government’s neo-liberal deregulation ideology that states just about anything goes in the building industry and buyer beware.
The leaky homes fiasco cost the country by various estimates between $11 billion and $22 billion – not counting considerable health costs and untold mental anguish.
National Plumbing and Pipelaying Standards Committee chairman Darren Waith said this month that up to half of the country’s homes could have unregulated plumbing products installed.
Like the use of low grade cladding and untreated timber, that caused leaky homes, shonky pipes are pretty hard to detect when you buy a house, but can have dire consequences years later.
Waith called for compulsory performance requirements in New Zealand to match the Australia’s WaterMark system, where products have to comply with a standard. New Zealand has voluntary system thanks to our neo-liberal ideology.
Installation of poor pipes is “very widespread especially in Auckland and most likely in Christchurch now, because there is a lot of pressure to drive down the price of the products and there are some big contracts,” Waith said.
A minimum performance standard for plumbing should be enforced in New Zealand rather than rely on consumer laws which were the “ambulance is at the bottom of the cliff”, he said.
Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, which in 2012 incorporated the Department of Building and Housing, said it is aware importers were bringing in shonky plumbing fittings.
But Housing Minister Nick Smith dismissed claims the country could be heading towards another “leaky homes”-type crisis.
He said the ministry had made inquiries but found no major problems. He said plumbers were responsible for deciding whether the products they installed met New Zealand standards.
Every single piece of plumbing work has been certified by a plumber, and if that work is found – two, three or five years hence – to be substandard, that plumber is in the gun and potentially has his registration up for loss if he has not met those Building Code requirements,” Smith said.
The public should be wary of claims about substandard foreign products, because it could just be local companies trying to reduce competition from overseas, he added.
When you find out several years after buying a house that all the pipes are shot, I can just see you getting restitution paid by the plumber who installed the product.
Whether this turns out to be on the scale of the leaky homes fiasco or not, this is a repetition of the same issue – deregulation in the name of cost cutting and slashing red tape.
It also lay behind the Pike River tragedy, where 29 men lost their lives. The genesis of that was the National government’s decision in 1992 to water down health and safety rules in the Department of Labour in the name of cutting bureaucracy and costs.
The PSA-v fiasco in the Kiwifruit industry, that cost the industry over $1 billion, was essentially the result of lax biosecurity where deregulation allowed pollen to be imported against the government’s own policies and procedures.
A class action claim against the government by 212 kiwifruit farmers, had a “smoking gun” of evidence of negligence by the government in its $375 million claim, according to Auckland University legal expert, Professor Bill Hodge.
Then last week, we had the extraordinary case of Steel and Tube admitting that for four years it had produced steel reinforcing mesh installed in thousands of buildings, falsely signed off as being certified to standard by top accredited lab, Holmes Solutions.
Chief executive of the publicly-listed company, Dave Taylor, said Holmes Solutions’ logo was left on the test certificates inadvertently four years ago, in a mistake that was only revealed this month.
The mesh was developed as a direct result of the Christchurch quakes. It is put in load-bearing walls and floors of high-rise buildings to hold the concrete together during an earthquake. Taylor tried to give assurances the mesh was okay but how do we know?
Greg Wallace, chief executive of Master Plumbers said New Zealand was fast becoming the Wild West of building products.
He has called for urgent talks with the government to address the burgeoning “grey market” in non-regulated building products.
“It’s impossible to say how many residential, commercial, industrial and public buildings contain these ‘dodgy’ products, ranging from plumbing pipes and fittings, to electrical items and lights, where we simply don’t have any idea of their quality, safety or longevity … New Zealand’s a bit like the Wild West when it comes to building products, because we do not have a mandatory product quality certification standard as they do in Australia.”
He called Housing Minister’s Nick Smith’s response as “ill-informed” and refuted Smith’s claim that a licensed plumber had to sign off a job and a local authority inspector had to sign for the plumber’s work.
That’s incorrect. The plumber has no way of knowing if piping products are of sufficient quality without an external regulation certification of manufacturing quality.”
He said his organisation has been urging the government to act on this for years.
The government can simply no longer ignore industry concerns.”
Wallace accused Smith of “disingenuously implying”’ that plumbers were protecting their patch. He said non-regulation of the building industry was a cross sector issue.
Ultimately, it’s much cheaper to invest in a product that lasts 50 years than buy cheap non-regulated products that fail and lead to significant early replacement costs,” Wallace said.
That is the nub of the issue.
Smith, John Key and their mates taut themselves as good financial managers, but their ideological adherence to deregulation has cost the country tens of billions of dollars.
No matter what your view is of Key and Co, the one value – probably their only bottom line value – is that money matters.
So you have to ask yourselves why do they persist with these absurd policies? The only semi-plausible answer I can arrive at, is that deregulation helps those inNat’s constituency, whether they be developers in the building industry, importers or wide boys in a deregulated finance industry, wanting to make a fast buck.
When the mess is exposed, the companies that created it have disappeared, the fast buck banked, and the taxpayer, is left to pay the bill.
(Simon Louisson is a former journalist who reported for The Wall Street Journal, AP Dow Jones Newswires, the New Zealand Press Association and Reuters and was a political and media adviser to the Green Party.)