Statements from the Minister for Trade and Investment Steven Ciobo on ABC radio this morning, dismissing concerns about the use of substandard steel in building and construction projects and describing them as a “scare campaign” by Labor, ignore the facts at the expense of public safety.
At a public hearing yesterday in Canberra, as part of the Senate inquiry into Australia’s steel industry, technical experts and companies with direct experience of the risks associated with the use of substandard imported products provided compelling evidence to committee members.
In its submission to the inquiry, the Welding Institute of Australia revealed that up to 80 per cent of imported fabricated steel does not comply with Australian standards.
In his evidence, the CEO of the Welding Institute, Mr Geoff Crittenden, outlined the serious consequences already evident in Australia from the use of substandard steel products in public works:
“There was a bridge recently in NSW in Penrith … The bridge was made in Vietnam. When they cut it up they found out that the main structural trusses were filled with water because they had been made with the incorrect grade of steel and to get the weight right they’d filled them with water.
“If we look at bridges, in Western Australian there’s a bridge, which we’ve inspected, that runs between a primary school and a high school. In our view and in the view of all the technical experts this bridge is unsafe. It certainly doesn’t meet any structural welding standards
“…we told the local government that we thought the bridge was unsafe. They said it wasn’t. We told the State Government that we thought the bridge was unsafe. They said it wasn’t and it’s the business of the local council. The children still cross the bridge everyday. Every school day.
“If that bridge was being manufacturing in Australia … every single aspect of the Australian safety standard would be applied to that bridge. If it’s being manufactured in Shanghai then you just don’t get the same level of oversight … you just don’t get the same degree of safety.”
GEOFF CRITTENDEN, WELDING INSTITUTE OF AUSTRALIA, 07 APRIL 2016.
Evidence presented to the committee by representatives for an alliance of 63 Australian businesses gave their own accounts of imported substandard steel products that could pose a serious risk to health and safety:
“We’ve had personal experience where businesses have imported overseas steel that doesn’t comply. We had a large steel pipe with a partial hole in the wall thickness that’s been filled up with body filler in China and then painted black like the rest of the steel pipe, presented as a brand new piece of pipe that’s going to go into a pressurised water situation … human life is at risk, we know that for a fact.”
MR IAN WATERS, REPRESENTING 63 AUSTRALIAN BUSINESSES, 07 APRIL 2016
This is not the first time evidence has been provided to a Senate committee on the public safety risks associated with the use of imported steel that does not comply with Australian standards.
The Senate inquiry into non-conforming building products has received 75 submissions, many of which highlight the serious safety risks associated with the use of substandard building products, including steel:
“Evidence suggests that many construction products are not fit for the purpose for which they are intended. The most concerning consequence of construction product failure is its impact on safety.”
AUSTRALASIAN PROCUREMENT AND CONSTRUCTION COUNCIL, 10 JULY 2015, SUBMISSION TO NON-CONFORMING BUILDING PRODUCTS INQUIRY
“Certification systems that only assess the mill of manufacture and do not provide for validated performance to Standards of the as-delivered product … may result in high maintenance costs of the life of the structure, and; may have safety implications, both on site during construction and during the life of the structure.”
THE AUSTRALASIAN CERTIFICATION AUTHORITY FOR REINFORCING AND STRUCTURAL STEELS, 31 JUNE 2015, SUBMISSION TO NON-CONFORMING BUILDING PRODUCTS INQUIRY
“The issue here is that a manufacturer or importer can cut costs significantly by not establishing the business structure, training and skills to conform to the relevant Australian Standards and legal requirements.”
AUSTRALIAN STEEL INSTITUTE, 03 AUGUST 2015, SUBMISSION TO NON-CONFORMING BUILDING PRODUCTS INQUIRY
Mr Ciobo is clearly oblivious of the public safety concerns and the evidence presented to not one, but two, Senate inquires.
If the Minister requires further proof, the submission from the Australian Steel Institute to the steel inquiry includes graphic evidence of case studies of non-compliance (Attachment A).
The risks associated with the use of substandard, cheap imported steel clearly demonstrate that Australia needs a national steel industry plan, including measures to address critical issues in relation to Australian standards and compliance.