‘We need to put people before profits’: Senate recommends a ban on all aluminium composite panels

10 Oct 2017, by Laurien Maerman

Countless buildings across Australia possibly contain combustible aluminium cladding.

In the wake of the 2014 Lacrosse Tower fire in Melbourne and the recent tragic fire at the Grenfell tower in London, there have been concerns that the non-compliant use of cladding in Australia is widespread and that there have been extensive delays in developing and implementing policies to address these issues. Following these events, the Senate Economics References Committee agreed to prepare an additional interim report on the implications of the use of non-compliant external cladding materials in Australia as a priority.

 The interim report was released on 6 September 2017. Since then, we reached out to Senator Chris Ketter to get a better insight into some of the key outcomes of the report, the next steps, and his presentation at the upcoming Australian Cladding & Building Standards Summit on 7-8 December 2017.

Senator Ketter states that the most significant and tangible outcome of this special inquiry was to recommend a ban on all potentially lethal aluminium composite panels. “This decision was not taken lightly, but at the end of the day, we need to put people before profits. Everyone has a right to feel safe in their own homes.”

“In light of the Grenfell Tower fire tragedy, the committee does not consider there to be any legitimate use of PE core ACPs on any building type,” Senator Ketter said.

In the context of the broader inquiry, the hearings into polyethylene aluminium composite cladding revealed that the Building Code is too complicated and contradictory, with no hierarchy of control for various clauses which compete with each other. Over the last few decades, there has been a rapid increase of deregulation and privatisation within the industry. Proper controls, audits and enforcement were not carefully put in place when deregulation and privatisation was occured.

Senator Ketter states that the issue of dangerous, flammable polyethylene cladding is really just a symptom of much bigger problems in the building products sector and that Federal Labor has announced that a Shorten Labor Government will implement a ban as a matter of urgency upon taking office.

When we asked Senator Ketter how he would see an immediate ban on the importation, sale and use of lethal aluminium composite panels would occur, he answered that policing the importation of polyethylene aluminium composite cladding should start at the border.

Additionally, Senator Ketter suggested that the Federal Government needed to consult the states and territories to adopt successful supply chain accountability legislation, such as the laws recently passed by the Palaszczuk Government in Queensland. In the interim, the proposed ban on combustible cladding would function in a similar way to the ban on asbestos.

The broader inquiry is ongoing, throughout the cladding hearings it was revealed that there is a total lack of accountability across building supply networks and the Federal Government is refusing to acknowledge this. Simply palming this issue off to the states does not set a high bar for industry to adhere to. Senator Ketter said: “The building Ministers Forum, chaired by Minister Laundy, has not kept pace with industry. In light of this, a national licencing scheme for all trades and professionals involved in the building and construction industry seems applicable.”

The committee recommends that building surveyors, building inspectors, builders and project managers, need to improve compliance and provide greater consumer protection and public safety outcomes. A national licencing scheme, including requirements for continuing professional development would ensure that building practitioners have the necessary skills and knowledge to operate in the building industry’s complex regulatory environment.

“I will be closely examining the building products sector by asking government and industry to front further hearings,” he said.

At the upcoming, inaugural Australian Cladding & Building Standards Conference on 7-8 December 2017, Senator Ketter will be discussing the finer details of the report, including outlining some of the next steps. “I want industry to be on board with this. If we don’t get this right, there could be ramifications for industry, government and most importantly, people’s safety.”

The inaugural Australian Cladding & Building Standard Summit forms the national forum for key industry stakeholder and is set to be a landmark event for the building and construction industry. The event will address a number of unanswered questions around the need for new safety standards, a new system for compliance regulation and uncertainties around who pays for the replacement of non-conforming building products and more. Visit the website to view the final agenda and Early Bird details (Early Bird expires 20 October 2017)

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