A profoundly disabled girl losing her $800,000 “forever home” is only the latest furore to hit the building watchdog, writes Des Houghton.
A profoundly disabled girl losing her $800,000 “forever home” is only the latest furore to hit the building watchdog, writes Des Houghton.

Opinion: 'Tragic case could cost embattled minister his job'

OPINION

A $770,000 dream home built for a disabled woman with money from her $6 million hospital negligence payout is to be bulldozed.

The demolition decision follows nearly three years of dithering by the State Government's building watchdog, the Queensland Building and Construction Commission.

"It's been agreed it has to be demolished," a spokesman said.

The decision has political ramifications. I'm told Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk is losing confidence with Mick de Brenni, her trouble-prone Works Minister who has been unable to contain growing public distrust of the commission.

The so-called watchdog was initially handed a list of 59 defects in the home built on Marine Parade, Redcliffe, by Linda Hartman for her wheelchair-bound daughter Paige.

"It was supposed to be her 'forever home' for when (my husband) Rob and I leave the planet," Hartman said.

Paige was left with brain damage after her treatment for a seizure was botched at Royal Brisbane Hospital when she was just 15 months old. She is now 24.

"She has no speech and has no capacity to understand anything," her mother said.

"Paige requires 24-hour-a-day care. We feed her through a tube in her stomach.''

The Supreme Court heard Paige was diagnosed with herpes simplex encephalitis in 1998 but suffered a devastating brain injury.

"In consequence of the damage to her brain, the applicant has been left profoundly disabled," the court heard.

"She suffers from a range of physical and cognitive deficits with only a limited capacity to communicate.

"She is distinctly incapable of managing her own affairs."

 

Linda Hartman and her daughter Paige Nicotra. Picture: Jamie Hanson
Linda Hartman and her daughter Paige Nicotra. Picture: Jamie Hanson

 

Hartman accused the QBCC of callously adding to her family's torment.

She called for an inquiry into the commission.

"The system has to change," Hartman said.

"They treated us like pigs."

She said Mick de Brenni had declined to face her.

"I would really like to meet him."

She said she had phoned his ministerial office and his electorate office in Logan several times to complain about the QBCC.

But she was repeatedly referred back to the agency by his staff.

An independent assessment also showed the home had rising damp.

Hartman and she and her daughter moved out in July 2019 after an enviro specialist detected toxic mould spores.

Hartman blamed the mould for an adverse reaction that caused Paige to be rushed to hospital. Paige required a sealed room like a hospital room with hydraulic lifts and no dust.

The Hartman case is one of hundreds that embroiled the QBCC in controversy.

State Ombudsman Anthony Reilly reported to Parliament that there are more complaints each year against the QBCC than any other statutory authority.

About 200 grievances are lodged each year.

De Brenni has failed to restore trust in the agency.

As complaints mount, the question must be asked: Is he up to the task?

De Brenni has declined to comment or be interviewed.

He has also ignored a call to publicly back the QBCC, whose board includes foul-mouthed CFMEU official Jade Ingham, who has a history of industrial unlawfulness and other Labor fellow travellers.

 

Embattled Public Works Minister Mick de Brenni
Embattled Public Works Minister Mick de Brenni

 

Regrettably, Hartman's ordeal is far from over.

The QBCC approved the maximum $200,000 compensation under the Queensland Home Warranty Scheme it administers.

So Paige's trust fund, administered by Perpetual, will be short by over $500,000 for a rebuild.

Perpetual has announced it is suing the builder, P.J. Burns.

Principal Rick Burns declined to comment.

However a staff member said: "There is more to this than meets the eye. It will come out in court."

Meanwhile, a Brisbane doctor who criticised the QBCC for allowing an apartment block to be built too close to his home creating a fire hazard has blasted the Crime and Corruption Commission for failing to thoroughly investigate his complaint.

Junior surgeon Shaun McCrystal said the CCC had referred his complaint back to the QBCC in August 2019 under its "devolution principle".

But the CCC failed to follow up.

"I've seen the CCC's assessment documents, and they concluded the QBCC's conduct was capable of amounting to corrupt conduct, so I don't even think it's up for debate,'' he said.

"I thought (the CCC) would at least ask why I've had nothing but silence from the QBCC, particularly after the Premier's office intervened and asked them to have another look at the allegations.

"It would be an understatement to say I've been left perplexed and extremely disappointed by the CCC's inaction.''

HOMEOWNER SCORES PARTIAL WIN

A Townsville homeowner who fears his house will be blown away in a cyclone has won a partial victory with a legal tribunal agreeing his house was built with the wrong cyclone rating.

Mark Agius successfully argued in the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal that his $400,000 three-bedroom Mount Louisa house fell significantly short of critical structural requirements determined by Australian standards for wind classification and did not comply with the Building Code or strict manufacturer installation guidelines.

Agius said he was forced to begin civil proceedings against a Townsville builder because the State Government building watchdog, the QBCC, failed to enforce the Building Code once it was discovered the builder had downgraded the wind ratings from Cyclone 3 to Cyclone 2.

He engaged independent wind and building experts who pointed to 75 major defects, including structural faults.

The QBCC had treated him appallingly, he said.

Des Houghton is a media consultant and a former editor of The Courier-Mail, The Sunday Mail and Sunday Sun

 

Originally published as 'Treated like pigs': QBCC slammed over demo of disabled girl's home



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