Keeping up with the changing landscape of professional engineers' registration requirements

Tim Jones, Caitlin McConnel & Zac Frazer
07 Jul 2022
Time to read: 4 minutes

Automatic deemed registration is still rolling out across Australia, along with other regulatory changes, so professional engineers and their employers need to stay on top of the current patchwork of laws, or risk downing tools.

Last year saw a range of changes to the compulsory registration regimes for professional engineers practising in the building industry in New South Wales and Victoria. With a raft of amendments to the regimes since then, and more changes on the horizon, now is a good time to consider whether you, your employees, or your organisation are compliant.

New South Wales: Not registered? You can’t practise

In NSW, registration is now compulsory for professional engineers doing building work on Class 2 buildings. If you applied for registration between 1 July 2021 and 28 February 2022, you will be deemed registered. However, if you have not yet applied – after 28 February 2022, it’s tools down while you wait for the assessment and approval of your application.

Since the overhaul of the registration requirements on 1 July 2021, several amendments have been made to the Design & Building Practitioners Act 2020 (NSW) (DBP Act) and its associated Regulation which affect engineers’ professional bodies, builders, and architects, including:

  • engineers’ professional bodies are now recognised under the DBP Act, and amendments have been made to:
    • applications for recognition of professional bodies of engineers and the applicable fees, including an option to review by the Civil and Administrative Tribunal;
    • conditions on recognition;
    • renewal of recognition; and
    • suspension or cancellation of recognition.
  • Builders who want to work on smaller low-rise and medium-rise Class 2 buildings will be allowed to register under the DBP Act.
  • Architects who have experience in a broader range of building classes (not just Class 2) can now register under the DBP Act.
  • Additional conditions will apply to architects who want to work on medium-rise buildings.

Although the amendments do not place any additional conditions on the registration of professional engineers, it might be an indication of what is to come.

If your professional association has not yet considered the changes made to the conditions of recognition – now is the time to do so. This is because some compliance requirements attract a financial penalty if the organisation is not compliant.

Victoria: Start your registration process now to avoid tools down

There have been no changes to the Professional Engineers Registration Act 2019 (Vic) (PER Act) since the new regulatory regime came into effect on 1 July 2021, however additional obligations in accordance with the PER Act are not far away.

From 1 October 2022, it will be mandatory for civil and structural engineers to register to continue providing professional engineering services in Victoria, while electrical engineers and mechanical engineers providing professional engineering services will be required to register by 1 June 2023 and 1 December 2023 respectively.

Consumer Affairs Victoria recommends civil and structural engineers commence the process by no later than 30 June 2022, given the potential four-month turnaround on the registration process. Registration is a two-step process, which firstly entails an assessment of your qualifications and experience with an approved assessment entity, and secondly, lodgement of the registration application with the Business Licensing Authority (BLA).

If you have not lodged your application with the BLA by the date registration becomes mandatory, you will not be legally entitled to provide professional engineering services in Victoria after that date.

If you provide professional engineering services under the direct supervision of a registered practicing professional engineer or you work under a prescriptive standard, you are not required to be registered with the BLA.

What about Automatic Mutual Recognition (AMR) scheme and "automatic deemed registration"

Since the introduction of the national Automatic Mutual Recognition of Occupational Registrations (AMR) scheme on 1 July 2021, all States and Territories except Western Australia and Queensland have adopted the scheme. Western Australia is set to join from 1 July 2022, but Queensland is yet to introduce legislation to join the scheme.

Organisations will likely embrace the reduction of red tape allowed by the introduction of the AMR scheme and “automatic deemed registration”, as it will support workforce mobility and address current skills shortages for registered and licenced workers.

The scheme will allow individuals who are registered engineers in their home state, mutual recognition to perform the same work in other States or Territories, without having to apply and pay fees for additional registration, under a process called "automatic deemed registration".

The lifting of temporary exemptions for professional engineers under AMR scheme in NSW & Victoria

As a transitional arrangement, the Victorian and New South Wales Treasurers temporarily exempted professional engineers from the operation the AMR scheme after its commencement on 1 July 2021.

In Victoria, the exemptions were for a maximum period of one year. However, the legislation exempting engineers from the AMR was repealed in December 2021, bringing professional engineers under the AMR scheme from 1 January 2022.

The New South Wales legislation excluding professional engineers from the operation of the AMR scheme was also for a maximum period of one year, which will expire on 1 July 2022.

As Victoria and New South Wales adopt the scheme, professional engineers should be aware that there is a notification requirement for some occupations. In Victoria, professional engineers must notify the BLA before they begin work. Once the notification is submitted, the "automatic deemed registration" process kicks in and professional engineers can get to work right away without waiting for a response from the BLA.

While some occupations in New South Wales have a notification requirement, it is yet to be announced whether those for professional engineers will remain when the AMR scheme commences on 1 July 2022.

Queensland: Still no mutual recognition

Although Queensland was a signatory to the Intergovernmental Heads of Agreement at National Cabinet in December 2020, it has not introduced legislation to join the AMR scheme. Key stakeholders and regulators raised concerns, including the potential compromise to industry safety standards, particularly in relation to the formal qualification requirements and minimum standards of conduct and competence.

Until Queensland enacts the regime, professional engineers registered in Queensland will not be able to automatically perform the same work in another jurisdiction and, vice versa, engineers registered in other jurisdictions will not be able to automatically perform the same work in Queensland without being registered in Queensland. In these cases, interstate engineers will need to contact the Board of Professional Engineers Queensland and formally apply for registration before they commence work.

Staying on top of the evolving regulation of professional engineers

The legislative regimes concerning the registration and automatic recognition of professional engineers at State and Commonwealth levels in Australia continues to evolve. As a result, we recommend that you:

  • review the changes to the registration requirements that may apply to professional engineers in your state.
  • monitor the changing nature of the registration requirements that apply to your organisation or individuals, particularly as the AMR scheme continues to roll out around the country.
  • be prepared for the impact of automatic deemed registration and what it requires from your organisation, including whether notification requirements are necessary within the jurisdiction you seek to work.

For further information or advice on how your business may be impacted by these changes, please contact a member of our team.

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Clayton Utz communications are intended to provide commentary and general information. They should not be relied upon as legal advice. Formal legal advice should be sought in particular transactions or on matters of interest arising from this communication. Persons listed may not be admitted in all States and Territories.