The Fifth Estate
Government slammed for inaction on dodgy materials as Senate inquiry delayed again
Cameron Jewell | 29 June 2017
Government inaction on dodgy building products in the wake of London’s Grenfell fire has been labelled “unconscionable”, following a decision to yet again delay reporting for a Senate inquiry into non-conforming building products.
It has now been more than two years since the inquiry was instigated in the wake of the Lacrosse fire in Melbourne, with delay after delay (six in total now) meaning the report will not see the light of day until at least 2018.
The latest delay is due to a change in the terms of reference to add focus to flammable cladding in the wake of the Grenfell fire (even though the inquiry came off the bat of the similar Lacrosse fire). This is the second time the terms of reference have been updated and submissions called for – the most recent after a wave of asbestos detections in building projects including a children’s hospital.
The Building Products Innovation Council, the peak body representing the country’s building product associations, is furious with an ongoing lack of action.
“It is unacceptable that this inquiry has been extended again with no end in sight as to when, or if, it will ever recommend appropriate government action,” BPIC chair Elizabeth McIntyre.
“Furthermore it is too narrow in focus. From the beginning, it should have been about all the systemic failures resulting in National Construction Code non-compliance, not just about a particular product or products.”
She said since the Lacrosse fire, and years prior to it, the building industry had been voicing serious concerns as well as developing third-party schemes to help stop the spread of dodgy materials.
“But governments have neither acknowledged nor endorsed these efforts. Instead, they have buried their heads in the sand.”
Ms McIntyre said a call to audit cladding on Australian buildings since Grenfell was a “knee-jerk political reaction”.
“There has already been a cladding audit done in Victoria in the wake of the Lacrosse fire, and the NSW Department of Planning and Environment conducted their own internal audit and estimated that 1800 buildings (and possibly as many as 2500) in metropolitan Sydney could contain flammable cladding material, and both those audits have failed to result in rectification and prosecutions.
“Calling for more audits is only going to tell what we already know.”
The BPIC wants state money earmarked for cladding audits to instead be used to conduct an audit of building non-compliance. It also wants state and territory governments to act pathways to prosecute those responsible for non-conforming and non-compliant products and practices.
“These pathways should also allow building owners to easily pass the cost of rectification on to those who created the problems in the first place,” a media statement said.
Ms McIntyre said it was time for action from governments.
“With calls for manslaughter charges to be brought against UK politicians at all levels of government who let their non-compliant building debacle take place, it is hard to know what further motivation our Australian politicians need in order to protect the health and safety of the public and prevent properties from being put at risk.”