Enhanced Enforcement & Deterrence Regulations for Queensland Engineers
ENHANCED ENFORCEMENT & DETERRENCE REGULATIONS FOR QUEENSLAND ENGINEERS
The New Regulatory Regime Comes Into Effect on 1 March 2021
The Board of Professional Engineers Queensland (BPEQ) has been protecting the public and setting the standards for engineers in Queensland for almost a century. But soon, the BPEQ will have enhanced investigative and enforcement powers, bringing it up to speed with many other regulatory bodies in Queensland and Australia. It is anticipated that the strengthening of the regulatory regime will lead to audits, investigations, and possibly also disciplinary action and criminal charges against engineers and the firms who employ them.
Who is affected by the changes?
Approximately 16,000 engineers registered in Queensland will be affected by the changes. Several thousand of interstate and overseas engineers are also registered since the Professional Engineers Act 2002 (Qld) applies outside of Queensland due to the extraterritoriality provision. Accordingly the changes will also affect thousands of engineers and firms outside of Queensland who perform services within Queensland.
The changes will also apply to organisations and firms who employ engineers, or who provide services in the engineering industry. These entities should conduct a thorough assessment of whether they are fully complying with the Professional Engineers Act 2002 (Qld).
What changes are coming into effect and when?
Whilst BPEQ will remain as the regulator for engineers, it will be afforded new and more wide ranging powers pursuant to the Industry Fairness (Security of Payment) and Other Legislation Amendment Act 2020, coming into effect from 1 March 2021.
What types of powers will BPEQ have? Enforcement & Deterrence
The new powers afforded to BPEQ will see them taking on a role aimed at enforcement and deterrence, similar to the Australia Health Practitioners Regulation Agency (AHPRA), the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC), and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC).
How will BPEQ achieve enforcement and deterrence?
The new powers will allow the BPEQ to exercise greater enforcement and deterrence through:
- Conduct investigations will allow them to search and seize;
- Compel certain people to provide or produce evidence;
- Conduct audits for compliance under the Act and Regulations;
- Investigate people who claim to be professional engineers;
- Impose conditions on a professional engineer’s registration.
Engineers with Criminal Histories
Engineers with criminal histories or who are found guilty of indictable offences may see their registrations cancelled at the discretion of the Board. Engineers should obtain legal advice from Potts Lawyers if they are charged or have been convicted of an indictable offence. The correct approach involves notifications and submissions to the Board, which provides the best chance of the discretion being exercised in an individual’s favour.
Engineers May Be Required to Undergo Medical Assessments
Engineers will also be required to undergo medical assessments at the Board’s direction, and may have their registrations cancelled if they do not comply with that requirement or if they do not cooperate with the medical practitioner appointed to perform that assessment.
Immediate Cancellation for Engineers where it is in the “Public Interest”
Under the new changes, some Engineers will see their registration being cancelled immediately where the board reasonably believes that there are grounds to cancel that engineers registration, and that it is also in the public interest to do so.
New Notification Obligations for Engineers
Under the new regime, in addition to the current notification obligations for engineers, engineers will also have to notify the Board in relation to any disciplinary action taken by any other bodies of a state or foreign country, in relation to their practice of the profession. Engineers should obtain legal advice immediately if they believe this situation has arisen, since penalties apply for non-compliance.
Auditing & Requirement to Produce Documents
The new powers also allow the Board to create an audit program and require an audited engineer to produce certain documents. Significant monetary penalties apply for non-compliance and so engineers and firms should seek legal advice immediately on their legal position in the event that they believe the ‘reasonable excuse’ exception applies, which has to be considerd on a case by case basis.
Corrupt Conduct contrary to the Crime and Corruption Act 2001 (Qld).
In addition to the BPEQ, the Queensland Crime and Corruption Commission (CCC) may also investigate an engineer. While it is anticipated that the BPEQ will still deal with a majority of the complaints associated with engineers, the CCC will still likely investigate the most serious and systemic types of corrupt conduct, as well as engineers and firms who provide services to governments and other public sector authorities.
Relevantly, the CCC recently declared that carrying out unregistered engineering services may amount to “corrupt conduct” contrary to the Crime and Corruption Act 2001 (Qld). Unregistered engineering services include the provision of engineering services when someone is not registered or directly supervised by a Registered Professional Engineer. If proven, it would amount to a criminal offence.
Experienced Legal Representation in Regulatory & Administrative Matters
It is important that engineers and the firms and organisations who engage them, ensure that they are fully compliant with the Act, and prepare for compliance audits and investigations by the BPEQ and possibly also the CCC.
This article is merely an overview of some of the many changes coming into effect. Engineers and firms should obtain legal advice that is tailored to their specific situation after they have provided their lawyers with detailed information on their unique position.
Potts Lawyers is experienced in assisting Engineers and Engineering Firms in Queensland, and have lawyers who are experienced in administrative law and regulatory prosecutions. Potts Lawyers is also experienced at assisting clients in CCC investigations.
Engineers and firms who wish to obtain pre-emptive legal advice on their compliance, or who are subject to audits where irregularities are discovered, should obtain legal advice as soon as possible.
Similarly, engineers and firms who are subject to allegations of failing to comply with or breaching the Act, should immediately seek legal assistance.
Potts Lawyers is committed to supporting the engineers and engineering firms and can offer free consultations in relation to engineering compliance matters, regulatory prosecutions, and any associated disciplinary matters.