Senate debates

Tuesday, 4 December 2018


Economics References Committee; Report

7:10 pm

Photo of Chris KetterChris Ketter (Queensland, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I present the report of the Economics References Committee on non-conforming building products, together with the Hansard record of proceedings and documents presented to the committee.

Ordered that the report be printed.

I move:

That the Senate take note of the report.

This report completes the long-running Senate Economics References Committee inquiry and follows three interim reports into nonconforming building products since the inquiry was referred in June 2015. This inquiry has run over two parliaments, during which time the committee received 164 submissions and several supplementary submissions. I want to thank all the stakeholders who contributed evidence to this inquiry through written submissions and through the 10 public hearings, spanning Canberra, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, Sydney and Adelaide. The committee has been across the country grappling with issues troubling the construction industry and consumers. I also want to thank the secretariat and all the staff who have contributed to this report. Thank you for your diligence and your sustained efforts over the past few years.

The final report today builds on our learnings from the cladding and asbestos interim reports and incorporates a broader evidence base in setting out a comprehensive approach to addressing the challenge of nonconforming and noncompliant building products. It also supports the compliance concerns raised in the Shergold-Weir Building Ministers' Forum report, Building Confidence: Improving the effectiveness of compliance and enforcement systems for the building and construction industry across Australia, and it draws attention to the progress being made in dealing with nonconforming products in some jurisdictions.

Specifically, the committee was encouraged by the proactive work undertaken by the Queensland government in its new legislation designed to strengthen the chain of responsibility for the importation and distribution of building materials. As such, recommendation 6 of this report suggests that other jurisdictions move to implement similar legislation, to ensure responsibility and accountability are spread more evenly across supply chains. By and large, many of the 13 recommendations of this final report echo those recommendations put forward in the interim reports.

The committee is cognisant that the Building Ministers' Forum is already moving on some of these issues, as highlighted by the Shergold and Weir report. Nevertheless, the committee would encourage both the government and the Building Ministers' Forum to increase the level of momentum in implementing these recommendations and, moreover, those recommendations that have been raised previously. These include expediting mandatory third-party certification for high-risk products, including a national register of noncompliant products if feasible, and the introduction of a national licensing scheme. A simple change that the committee has put forward previously and again in this report is a recommendation we strongly believe would assist stakeholders—to consider making all Australian standards freely available. Where feasible, all forms of legal requirements should be freely available so that stakeholders can inform themselves adequately of their obligations under the relevant law.

In conclusion, the issue of nonconforming and noncompliant building products is a very sobering one. It strikes at the very core of community issues such as public safety. It is literally a matter of life and death. Everyday Australians place their trust in the product, supply and construction industries to professionally provide a built environment that we can enjoy safely together. However, this inquiry has shown that too many times Australians have been let down. Asbestos continues to come into this country. There are new concerns about the amount of lead in our drinking water systems. There's flammable cladding on buildings across the country, and the blame game is only getting louder.

It's time that the Liberal-National government steps up to the plate and tackles these problems head-on or calls an election and lets Australians decide who they trust to take us forward. The federal government can and must play a key role here. We must work with energy and diligence with the state and territory governments to set nationally consistent standards and the bar must be high. The federal government can help coordinate information systems to help detect importation of risky products and where they are installed. Licensing can be fixed and it is Labor who has a plan. To date, I have been disappointed by the attitude of this government on these matters of life and death. It doesn't help when there is a revolving door of ministers. I do hope that, in the remaining months of this parliament, following this report, we see some real progress for the building industry, but, unfortunately, I am not holding my breath, and I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.