INTERVIEWER: It’s been five weeks since London’s Grenfell Tower disaster and slowly the extent of the problem with flammable cladding on buildings in Australia is becoming clearer.

The Queensland Government has confirmed cladding on Brisbane’s Princess Alexandra Hospital is combustible. The Prime Minister ordered a national investigation after the Grenfell disaster and a Senate inquiry has been hearing concerns about safety standards in buildings across the country.

Labor Senator Kim Carr is taking part in that inquiry. Senator Carr, good morning.

SENATOR KIM CARR: Good morning.

INTERVIEWER: A couple of weeks ago the Assistant Minister for Industry, Craig Laundy, told AM he had no idea how many buildings in Australia had been fitted with dangerous, flammable cladding. Has this Senate inquiry shed any light on the scale of the problem?

CARR: It’s quite clear from the evidence presented to the committee that there are thousands of buildings across Australia that are unsafe and have been so for some time. It’s quite clear that we have had a legacy of privatisation, deregulation and globalisation that has left us with unsafe buildings right across the Commonwealth.

INTERVIEWER: States and territories and in many cases local councils are conducting audits, though. Doesn’t that show the system is working?

CARR: No, it doesn’t. It shows the system is not working. What we are seeing is that there has been widespread certification fraud, counterfeiting of products, failures in the regulatory regime in terms of certification of work.

We are seeing people who are not qualified to undertake certification doing that work, we are seeing things that are certified fit for purpose that are not fit for purpose, we are seeing a failure in the regulatory regime across this country.

We’re no longer seeing black-letter law regulation, we’re seeing widespread abuse of the arrangements put in place. There are so many loopholes in building codes across the country that you could drive a squadron of bulldozers through them.

INTERVIEWER: So when you’re taking about fraudulent certification of both building products and building themselves, who’s doing that?

CARR: We’re getting crooks and fly-by-night operators. We’re getting enormous pressure being placed upon builders as a result of a culture of cost-cutting and working on the assumption that no one is watching, that no one is responsible, that there’s a buck-passing regime in place, that there’s always going to be an opportunity to duck one’s responsibility.

In the end, we have a situation where we’re just waiting for a disaster, waiting for one to fall on us as a result of the failure of the political system in this country to deal with the consequences of deregulation and the privatisation of fundamental public safety issues.

INTERVIEWER: In many cases it’s councils or it’s state authorities, sometimes it’s fire authorities themselves, that are doing that certification …

CARR: And the national government, don’t leave them out.

INTERVIEWER: So are you saying that there should be a national certification? 

CARR: Absolutely, we have to break this deadlock where there’s always an excuse for someone else to have the finger pointed at them.

What we’re finding is that the licensing regime has fallen to pieces, the training regime has fallen to pieces, we’re seeing that there’s always someone else you can draw attention to rather than take responsibility.

We have a building code at a national level, then we have eight separate building acts across the country. And no one is able to be held responsible in those circumstances.

The consumers, the tenants of buildings, are left in the lurch. We’re seeing that builders are able to get away with extraordinary actions, that reputable employers are having their businesses undermined, that workers are put in jeopardy …

INTERVIEWER: So has anyone ever been prosecuted for fraudulently certifying a building?

CARR: It would appear not. There has been very little action taken, despite the acknowledgment by public officials that this is a widespread practice.

Very little action has been taken about the importation of dodgy equipment, of counterfeit equipment, very little action has been taken across this country. 

INTERVIEWER: So what action are you proposing to close those loopholes?

CARR: We need to stop these dodgy products at the border. That’s not a bad place to start.

INTERVIEWER: So you want an import ban?

CARR: We’ll need to have a serious look at that when it comes to dangerous goods.

This aluminium cladding that everyone now acknowledges is not fit for purpose and is unnecessary – thousands of buildings across the country are covered in it and it saves $4 a square metre!

How can we possibly justify this kind of greed? For such a miserable amount of money, public safety has been put at risk.

INTERVIEWER: Senator Carr, thank you very much for speaking with AM.

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