Monday, 19 June 2017
Questions without Notice
Building and Construction Industry
In light of the tragic incident at Grenfell Tower in London, there has clearly been strong interest in this issue here in Australia, and rightly so. But, before I begin, I offer my sympathies—and I am sure I speak on behalf of all of us in the chamber—to the residents and to the families and friends of residents of Grenfell Tower.
Our regulators are in contact with the UK authorities, who are conducting their own investigations, so I will not draw premature comparisons between that incident and the safety of Australian high-rise buildings. But I do want to provide some information about what we do here in Australia. The health and safety risks posed by non-conforming building products are a priority for the Australian government. There is in place a National Construction Code which provides the minimum necessary requirements for safety, health, amenity and sustainability in the design and construction of new buildings. Since its implementation in 1994, the code has specified that combustible materials cannot be used on the external walls of high-rise buildings. The NCC also contains other fire-safety requirements that limit the spread of fire and alert the occupants. These requirements vary with the building size but can include smoke detection, occupant warning systems, more than one exit for each storey, fire sprinklers, fire-resistant construction, resistance to collapse as a result of fire and features to assist fire brigade operations such as fire hydrants.
The Prime Minister will be writing to premiers and chief ministers seeking their commitment to address issues around non-compliance and requesting information on current enforcement activities they undertake, because the state and territories are at the front line of enforcing the building regulations. We are also going to be writing to the relevant Senate committee—there is a Senate inquiry into non-conforming building products. Rather than holding a separate inquiry, we will be asking for that inquiry to expand to include examination of current state and territory regulatory frameworks. (Time expired)
The Building Ministers' Forum—which is chaired by my colleague the Assistant Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science, Craig Laundy—oversees the Australian Building Codes Board, which is responsible for development of the National Construction Code. In December 2016, the Building Ministers' Forum agreed that the codes board would implement a comprehensive package of measures to help address the risks associated with non-compliant use of external wall cladding on high-rise buildings and the broader issue of non-compliant use of building products. The package of measures includes referencing a contemporary and rigorous testing standard based on international best practice for full-scale testing of the fire performance of external facade systems; providing rigorous contemporary and clear NCC requirements to improve application and compliance; enhancing on-site checking, auditing and enforcement; and increasing industry awareness of the need to be cognisant of the risks associated with non-compliance. The Building Ministers' Forum is meeting again next week, and Mr Laundy will be pursuing these issues with his state counterparts. (Time expired)
Of course, as I said before, we need to work with our state and territory colleagues because they implement and comply with the regulations. We have taken a leadership role in driving a national effort to strengthen regulations and compliance with regulations, but more work needs to be done. The Victorian government has conducted an audit of 170 buildings in relation to external wall cladding and found a non-compliance rate of 51 per cent. This audit highlights the importance of the states and territories continually auditing and monitoring compliance against the building code to ensure confidence in our world-class built environment. Other states have also recently announced audits into compliance with the NCC on their high-rise buildings. We welcome this important action. We implore all states and territories to enforce compliance with the National Construction Code. We will work cooperatively with them through the Building Ministers' Forum to drive ongoing improvements and compliance with building and construction regulations.