The Rum Corps Redux








Looking at the procession of NSW politicians recently caught by ICAC with their fingers in the till, it is hard to tell if this is a bizarre new reality television series called “Good politicians gone bad” or even “Politicians gone wild” or just a continuation of The Rum Corps type corruption which has plagued NSW since the earliest days of the colony. At this rate, ICAC is going to bring the paper bag industry to its knees within days.

For those who are playing catch up, the following laws are particularly relevant to donations by property developers (there is other legislation governing political donations but these are the main ones relating to property developers):

  1. Local Government and Planning Legislation Amendment (Political Donations) Act 2008, which commenced on 1 October 2008 requires the public disclosure of donations or gifts when lodging or commenting on development proposals. This law is designed to improve the transparency of the planning system; and
  2. Election Funding and Disclosures Amendment (Property Developers Prohibition) Act 2009, which commenced on 14 December 2009 made it an offence for a property developer to make a political donation as well as unlawful for a person to accept a political donation from a property developer.

Now stay with me people, this does get interesting.

So notwithstanding the above, and as a simple Google search will confirm, political donations to property developers have not stopped.

Call me crazy, but why would a property developer risk breaking the law and appearing in front of ICAC as well as incurring the various penalties, to give money to a politician for simply altruistic reasons. There must be something in it for them.

As Ted Mack (the only person ever to have been elected and re-elected as an independent to local, state, and federal government in Australia) said recently, the Labor and Liberal parties are “like two mafia families seeking control of the public purse for distribution to themselves, supporters, and the special interests who fund them”.

But should we be surprised? After all, I think this exchange from Yes Minister explained it all 30 years ago:

Hacker:             Are you saying that winking at corruption is government policy?

Sir Humphrey:   No, no, Minister! It could never be government policy. That is unthinkable! Only government practice.

Hacker:             You’re a cynic, Humphrey!

Sir Humphrey:   A cynic is what an idealist calls a realist.

The Homer They Fall

156_ The Homer They Fall

The last part of the three-part ABC TV Canberra expose on building defects focused on the “ineffectiveness” of the ACT Government building regulator, ACTPLA.

In short, Cecelia Wood bought a townhouse (ie a class B unit) in Tuggeranong which did not meet the requirements of the Building Code of Australia. Ms Wood lodged a complaint with ACTPLA which duly then issued a rectification order.

The builder ignored the rectification order and ACTPLA then purported to have another licensee complete the rectification work (as it is able under the Construction Occupations (Licensing) Act) but stopped this process when it realised it could not afford to have the work carried out.

Unfortunately, this is not the first time ACTPLA has failed to go through with this process due to financial constraints within the ACT Government.

It all reminds me very much of that episode of the Simpsons, The Homer They Fall, where Homer Simpson fights Boxcar Bob who basically fights to a standstill. Homer Simpson, having taken all this punishment, simply then nudges Boxcar Bob over and wins the fight. See transcript below:


[Bell Rings] [Crowd Cheering] Way to go, Dad! Take those punches.

Man, that tramp’s got the energy of a hobo.

Yeah, he never stops punching, except to check out his bindle.

[Man] He’s not fallin’ down at all.

[Crowd Cheering, Chattering] – [Cheering, Chattering Stops] – [Grunts] Okay, Homer, he’s tired! He’s tired!

Now’s your chance! Nudge him! Nudge him! [Crowd Cheers].


Well, ACTPLA have decided that enough is enough and on 6 March 2014, the ACT Government passed the Construction and Energy Efficiency Legislation Amendment Bill 2013 (No 2).

The two highlights of this amendment are:

  1. the maximum penalties for a builder who does not comply with the Building Code of Australia have been increased up to $70,000 for individuals and $350,000 for companies or 5 years imprisonment or both; and
  2. non-compliance with a rectification order now has maximum penalties of $280,000 for an individual and $1,400,000 for a corporation (up from $28,000 and $140,000, respectively).

So, it looks like the ACT Government are not going to take this crap lying down and will fine non-complying builders into submission.

It’s a start but more needs to be done.

Friends, Romans, Countrymen! Lend me your ears


Building Defects have been around longer than Shakespeare or the Romans.

It was actually Hammurabi who was the sixth king of Babylon (modern day Iraq) from 1728 BC – 1686 BC who established the set of laws called Hammurabi’s Code, one of the first written codes of law in recorded history. These laws were inscribed on stone tablets standing over eight feet tall (2.4 meters). Two of my favourites from the Code are set out below:

229.     If a builder builds a house for a man and does not make its construction firm, and the house which he has built collapses and causes the death of the owner of the house, that builder shall be put to death.

230.     If it causes the death of a son of the owner of the house, they shall put to death a son of that builder.

Following in Hammurabi’s footsteps, the Roman Emperor Nero used the devastation of the great fire of Rome in 64AD to change much of Rome and institute new building codes throughout the city.

After the Great London Fire of 1666AD, the English Parliament laboured for 2 years over the writing of the “London Building Act”. However, in the two years after the fire, much of London was rebuilt using the same poor practices.

So the question is, if man has not been able to get building codes right in the last 4,000 years, is  it likely he is going to get them right today?