The Senate today called for urgent action from the Turnbull Government on building fire safety, finding that the de-regulation and privatisation agenda that has been underway since the 1990s has comprehensively failed to protect the public. 

There must be an end to buck passing and abrogation of responsibility. This is not something that can, or should, be swept under the rug.

It is time to restore public accountability for public safety in the building industry and the Turnbull Government cannot avoid its responsibility here.

The Senate Economic References Committee has today tabled its interim report into non-conforming building products looking specifically at the widespread use of non-compliant, highly flammable aluminium composite panels in tens of thousands of Australian buildings.      

The Committee has recommended that the Turnbull Government, as a matter of urgency:

  • Implements a total ban on the importation, sale and use of polyethylene core aluminium composite panels.

  • Works to implement a national licencing scheme for all building practitioners.

  • Imposes a penalties regime for non-compliance with the National Construction Code, including revoking accreditation, banning from tendering in Commonwealth contracts and financial penalties.

  • Adequately resources the Federal Safety Commissioner ensuring that it is able to carry out its duties with new audit functions and projected work flows.

  • Works to establish a nationally consistent statutory duty of care for end users in the residential strata sector.

  • Brings more representatives of the supply chain into the working of the Building Minister’s Forum.

  • Considers making all Australian Standards and codes freely available to the construction industry.               

During the two years since the Committee was convened, over 160 submissions have been received and evidence has been heard during seven public hearings.

Witnesses have revealed the failure of public accountability for public safety in the building industry.

The Committee has heard evidence about widespread certification fraud, product substitution, counterfeiting of products and gross malpractice.  Yet no one will take responsibility for the systematic failure of the regulatory regime.

The most senior fire brigade officials in the country have highlighted the acute danger that many Australians are facing.

“In 31 years as a firefighter and 20 years as a fire safety specialist I have never seen a fire like this—in my lifetime—and I have made it my business to study fires of this nature, so we can get a better outcome for firefighters in the community.”

Mr Adam Dalrymple, Deputy Chief Officer of the Melbourne Metropolitan Fire and Emergency Services Board.

The Turnbull Government has consistently argued that the National Construction Code is adequate. But there are so many loopholes in building codes across the country that a squadron of bulldozers could be driven through them.

The integrity of public safety must also be restored by the construction industry itself. Past practices saw some builder’s cuts costs and substitute fire-resistant products with cheaper imported combustible products in order to save a paltry $3 per square metre. These criminal activities must end.

Each day the Turnbull Government fails to respond to the widespread misuse of these dangerous products, more Australian lives are placed at risk.

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