Analysis and Commentary

Are you ready for registration of Engineers – by Paul van de Loo

Analysis and Commentary

Engineer registration is something new in Australia other than in Queensland, but now other state’s are following suit. Here, Paul van de Loo asks whether Australian engineers are ready for a scheme which they did not ask for and do not need.

If you’re a typical engineer you’re pretty focussed on your engineering, and you may be blissfully unaware of the engineer’s registration wave sweeping Australia.

Queensland has had a registration scheme since 1929 but no other states followed suit until Victoria legislated a scheme in 2019 which is now being implemented.

NSW has also introduced a scheme and all other states and territories are proposing to introduce schemes. In South Australia the government made it an election commitment, but I for one never saw any publicity on that.

So, what is registration? Under the QLD and VIC schemes if you are:

Providing an engineering service in or for the state

You are not working to a prescribed standard

And you are not working under the direct supervision of a Registered Engineer – then you must be registered.

To gain registration you must be approved by a body such as Engineers Australia or Professionals Australia. You need to demonstrate that you have a qualification that complies with the Washington Accord and have the experience in your chosen field of registration (Mechanical, Civil, Electrical, etc) to convince them that you’re competent.

Of course, there are significant fees involved, firstly to be assessed and secondly to renew your registration annually. At the moment there is no reciprocity between states, so get ready to go through the process in every state that you do work in or for.

The fine for not being registered is substantial – up to $82,000 in Victoria. On receiving a complaint, the government may force entry to your office and seize computers and documents to investigate the complaint.

So why have the states decided to introduce schemes now? It is a bit of a mystery, but in my conversations with MPs, lobbying by Engineers Australia and Professionals Australia was cited as the impetus.

High profile issues in the building industry, particularly in Sydney, have been used as justification on why it is required. Arguably there is a need to register engineers in the construction industry, though the onset of problems in this industry does seem to correlate with the reduction of building inspections by government inspectors.

The obvious first step would be to reinstate the role of building inspectors who have stop-work powers rather than rushing out to register engineers.

Why are Engineers Australia and Professionals Australia so keen on it? I’ve been a member of Engineers Australia for decades and I certainly have not seen a push by members or industry for registration, nor have I seen any real consultation of members on whether registration is a good idea.

However, I note that Engineers Australia has declining membership revenues in recent times, so maybe this is all about topping up their coffers?

So, what is the impact? The regulations around the Victorian and Queensland schemes do seem to focus on engineers in the building and construction sector, and certainly if you look at the prosecutions by the BPEQ they are mostly building and construction related.

However, the legislation is far broader than that, so if you design a machine or product that is sold into Queensland (and now Victoria) you are very much in the scope of the legislation.

Maybe prosecution of Elon Musk for not being registered when a self-driving Tesla has an accident in the state (or even for the mere act of selling one in the state) is unlikely but I can see nothing in the legislation that would preclude it.

Elon might be in for a shock next time he takes some downtime on a Barrier Reef resort…

So, is engineering registration just about falling in line with what other countries do? Well, no, not really.

The UK and the EU do not have engineering registration schemes. Canada does, and most states in the USA do. In the USA most states have exemptions for manufacturing, R&D, military and aerospace and public utilities. So at least Elon is safe on his home turf.

There are no such exemptions in Australian legislation; the net has been cast wide – if you’re working in manufacturing, defence, utilities, or your company designs products that are sold in Australia you’re going to need to be registered unless you satisfy the exemptions for working to a prescribed standard or under supervision of a registered engineer.

So again (free trade agreements anyone?) we have our government putting manufacturing on an uphill playing field internationally.

So, are you ready for schemes that we don’t need, add to the cost of doing business and will make us even less competitive globally?

Paul van de Loo is an engineer with over 30 years experience in product design and R&D in automotive, military, medical, mining and consumer goods, as well as cleantech projects. He serves on the National Committee for Engineering Design, a committee of Engineers Australia, and the committee of the Electronics Industry Development Association (EIDA). Paul is Technical Director at engineering design house Applidyne, which he founded in 1993.

Picture: Paul van de Loo

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