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Dodgy building products: how long do we have to wait for action?

Parliament House Canberra

A federal Senate inquiry into non-conforming building products has yet again been delayed, and a final report will not see the light of day until at least 30 April 2018 – two-and-a-half years after the initial deadline.

The inquiry has suffered a raft of delays (see timeline), most recently due to expanded terms of reference, following both the discovery of asbestos in imported building materials and the Grenfell fire in London.

A major delay was announced on 17 August, with an interim report on external cladding to be released on 31 August, an interim report on asbestos due 31 October, and a final report due 30 April 2018.

However on 30 August the due date for the external cladding report was updated to 6 September on the Senate Committee website.

A committee secretariat spokesperson told The Fifth Estate the inquiry had been delayed because more time was needed to finalise the report, and that Senate approval was not required for an extension of the interim report due date.

The changes may have something to do with the announcement on ABC’s Four Corners on Monday night that there would be a report into flammable aluminium composite panel cladding screening on 4 September.

Building Products Innovation Council executive officer Rodger Hills told The Fifth Estate that general industry sentiment was that the inquiry had been given ample time already to gather the necessary information and release a report.

Timeline of delays:

  • 23 June 2015: Senate refers an inquiry into non-conforming building products to the Senate Economics References Committee for inquiry and report by12 October 2015 (just shy of four months)
  • 15 September 2015: Senate grants an extension to the committee to report by 3 December 2015
  • 23 November 2015: A further extension granted to report by 16 March 2016
  • 15 March 2016: Another extension granted to report by 10 May 2016
  • 4 May 2016: Yet another extension granted to report by 30 September 2016
  • 9 May 2016: Dissolution of Senate and the House of Representatives for federal election on 2 July 2016 causes cessation of parliamentary inquiries
  • 11 October 2016: Senate agrees to re-adopt inquiry, with report due 25 May 2017, and a new focus on asbestos
  • 30 March 2017: Senate grants an extension to the committee to release an interim report by 31 August2017 for issues related to importation of asbestos, and 31 October 2017 for a final report
  • June 2017: External cladding added to the inquiry terms of reference
  • 17 August 2017: Senate grants another extension, with an interim report on external cladding materials due 31 August 2017, an interim report on asbestos due 31 October 2017, and a final report due 30 April 2018
  • 30 August 2017: The due date of the interim report on external cladding material changes to 6 September 2017 – A committee secretariat spokesperson says Senate approval was not required

Building Minister Forum moves to tackle non-compliance

The Building Ministers’ Forum (BMF) meanwhile has announced the appointment of University of Western Sydney chancellor Professor Peter Shergold and lawyer Bronwyn Weir to assess compliance and enforcement issues in the building and construction sectors.

Craig Laundy, BMF chair and federal assistant minister for industry innovation and science, said the federal government, through the forum, was committed to ensuring Australia had a safe built environment.

“Australia’s National Construction Code is among the best in the world,” Mr Laundy said.

“But we’ve got to work with state and territory regulators across the country to focus on stamping out the non-compliant installation of building products, such as combustible cladding on high-rise buildings.”

Professor Shergold in the past led a review of government processes around large public programs and projects, while Ms Weir is a partner at Maddocks law firm and is regarded as an expert in building and construction law.

“We want to make sure our builders not only have the right products to do their job, but are also using the right products for the job, to ensure we can provide continued confidence in Australia’s buildings,” Mr Laundy said.

Mr Hills said he was pleased there was a recognition in the BMF that there were “gaps that need to be fixed”, though was uncertain why the terms of reference had not been publicly released.

“What is annoying is that they obviously gave these guys the terms of reference when they appointed them. [Professor Shergold and Ms Weir] wouldn’t have signed up on a blank cheque.”

He said focus in the inquiries and media on cladding was welcome, however the issues went much deeper and affected a range of building materials.

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