Standards and Building Regulation


Australian building regulations, a law in all states, refer to a hundred and fifty Australian Standards documents and by reference make them, in a manner of speaking, also law. The community, however, through it's government, commits nothing to the cost of those standards. This situation, in a free society could fairly be described as frivolous and destructive. Laws may be made at often detailed and arbitrary levels where no or negligible responsibility is directly connected to government itself.

There is no doubt that many requirements of Australian Standards documents make for a better and safer environment. At the same time, in instigating them as law we do not take fair responsibility and recognition of the costs attributable.

If following the building regulations every building site carried a copy of all referenced standards the cost would be extraordinary. The additional cost of many other standards referred to by specification would extend this burden already greater than all but the very few sustain to an even more absurd level. We seek only to require not necessarily to inform. The result is that many requirements are little more than guessed at.

Most of these standards cost a considerable amount. The order of $100 for a handful of pages is not unusual. Where these may carry a hundred or so pages they can cost much more. While very few builders could afford to have a copy of every standard upon every site, few architects also carry copies of every referenced standard.

We sit gratis on the standards committees and we make written representations. The retail cost of standards goes to the cost of maintaining a secretariate, to promotion and to printing. Much of that cost could be reduced by reducing the size of the secretariate, the quantity of advertising (for law requires no advertising except by the government which wishes to sell it) as well as management and board positions. It would again become the outcome of interested parties or government paid committee where that government reckons a certain standardisation important. Printing could be near free by posting on the net or printing as paper covered stapled documents. These, much of similar form to those which most of our our legislation could be found in before government decided that it could package it making money out of what it requires people to abide by.

Could this be the reason that the number of annual pages of legislation have risen many thousands of percent in the last handful of decades? Population can't be the reason, that has only increased one hundred percent at best in the period.

The community via its government is not taking full responsibility for the rules it sets and the liberty it is prepared to curtail to do so.

If a community wishes to establish laws is it less than reasonable that it should at least be prepared to make access to and understanding of those laws readily and freely available to its  people? The growth in the community grab through its government for control of private interests is massive and increasing.  It  forgets its culture and history of liberty making anything that it wishes to control it's to control without necessary direct cost to itself.

This starts at the little things that many of us would like to see. The disabled toilet in every building. Often useful but there are other ways. It would be just as useful and more consistent with liberty were the community to decide what number of these conveniences were to be required in every street block 0.5, 2, 10, whatever, then provide those either themselves or by financing land holders to provide them. As a community it is very reasonable that where we view something as beneficial we spend funds informing people as to why that is so. Informed public recognition of value will encourage action. At the same time government remains responsible to the ballot box. To achieve it without understanding and through slight of hand without cost or responsibility at the ballot box is abuse of authority.

Many people do make the choice to provide elements we require by standards. They may feel the inner glow associated with a magnanimous gesture or the contentment of a bank balance further in the black as their customers respond to the provision. They feel and understand the responsibility. When an action is necessitated by government it seldom reflects real need as it is incapable of fully responding to circumstance. It therefore both underperforms and over-performs to the perceived need from place to place. The result is waste; inefficiency. At the same time, as the real cost is not borne by government the real cost of decision making is distant from the elector's perception of government.

Reading a standard like our AS 1428.4:2002 on tactile surface indicators can be enlightening. This is an inane standard. $2.00 per page worth of ridiculous specification rather than common sense understanding. Button sizes are given like 50mm plus or minus 1 mm. Strips as 35mm plus or minus 1mm or a gap to indicators of 300 plus or minus 10 or luminance contrasts of C=(Y2-Y1)/0.5(Y1+Y2)=0.6. Could that be real? Yes, and it is repeated in almost every other standard.

As working approximations, most standards do a passable job of providing us with a mechanism for assessing likely safe or workable conditions. As a requirement, however, they encourage inflexible and conservative design. They also often create unreasonable cost and given their often unlikely availability due to cost create an unreasonable judicial expectation of performance and an unreasonable community expectation of safety.

The modest residential stair balustrade, for example, must meet with building and standards code conditions which it's knowing user may never require or desire simply, for example, to save an intruder from needing to think that as a private residence, the private owner may like to live in a different way to that which the intruder is used to. This is similar to the law-breaking parent who props open a pool gate so that they are always aware that their child who is capable of building mechanisms by which to get over the fence may be in the pool and in potential danger.

We are prepared to make these laws that hurt one and save another where there is private cost but we don't require similar fences around every creek or rural water hole where the risks may be greater. And if risks are not greater we have never bothered to promote understanding of the fact. We do not make this rational extension of the law  for two simple reasons. The cost would come from the government purse and break us and the unsightly (and inapt) nature of the installation would ensure that regardless of cost, the law would never succeed.

This is neither rational nor reasonable legislation.

Some code requirements are quite nice, some are very useful. Some are quaint and some intolerably specific. A free society would attempt to leave us to sort out who does what based on our choice and that based on information and ideas which a government wishes to foster. Where it could not effect what it regards as appropriate change through understanding then it would suffer the cost and ensure equity and clear accountability.

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