Senate Inquiry into non-conforming products
Immediately following the Grenfell Tower tragedy, the existing federal Senate inquiry into non-conforming building products was asked to also focus on non-compliant cladding. Public hearings concentrating on the use of non-compliant external cladding materials in Australia were held on 14 July 2017 in Melbourne, on 19 July 2017 in Sydney and on 31 July 2017 in South Australia. Submissions have been received by the Committee.
The inquiry released its interim report regarding non-conforming building products on 6 September 2017.
The committee acknowledged that:
- there are compliant uses for polyethylene (PE) core aluminium composite panels (ACPs) in low-rise buildings,
- there are performance-based solutions that allow for the use of PE core ACPs in high-rise buildings, and
- the signage industry uses PE core ACPs.
Despite these acknowledgments, the committee considered that there were no legitimate uses of ACPs with a PE core on any building type and recommended the urgent implementation of a total ban on the importation, sale and use of ACPs with a PE core (recommendation 1).
The committee also recommended:
- the development of a national licensing scheme with requirements for continued professional development for all building practitioners (recommendation 2);
- the introduction of nationally consistent measures to increase accountability for participants across the supply chain (recommendation 3);
- making all Australian Standards and codes freely available (recommendation 4);
- the imposition of a penalties regime for non-compliance with the National Construction Code (NCC), such as revocation of accreditation, a ban from tendering for Commonwealth funded construction work or substantial financial penalties (recommendation 5);
- ensuring the Federal Safety Commissioner is adequately resourced to ensure that the office is able to carry out its duties in line with the new audit function and projected work flow (recommendation 6);
- that the government implement the use of Director Identification Numbers to prevent directors from engaging in illegal phoenix activity (recommendation 7);
- that state and territory governments develop a nationally consistent statutory duty of care protection for end users in the residential strata sector (recommendation 8).
The Coalition Senators released a dissenting report, disagreeing with recommendations 1 and 5, considering that:
- banning an individual product will not solve the issue - instead consideration should be given to mechanisms ensuring better identification and evidence of suitability for use of the materials along the supply chain; and
- the Commonwealth government has limited powers to impose penalties.
The final report of the inquiry is due on 31 October 2017.
Hot on the heels of the Senate Economics Reference Committee's recommendation 1, Senator Nick Xenophon introduced the Customs Amendment (Safer Cladding) Bill 2017 into the Senate on 11 September 2017. The bill is to amend the Customs Act 1901 to prohibit the importation of 'polyethylene core aluminium composite panels'. Our Alert on that bill can be found here.
Building Ministers Forum
At the end of June, the Building Ministers Forum (BMF) announced that it:
- will direct the Australian Building Codes Board (ABCB) to expedite the implementation of measures through the NCC preventing the non-complaint use of cladding;
- has directed the finalisation of implementation of recommendations set out in the Strategies to Address Risks Related to Non-Conforming Building Products report published in 2016, particularly the establishment of a national forum of building regulators;
- has, with the ABCB, created a website providing information about non-compliant building products and allowing members of the public to submit a complaint or enquiry about a product; and
- will commission a report by an independent expert on the compliance and enforcement problems affecting the implementation of the NCC.
In August, the BMF announced the commissioning of two independent experts to carry out that assessment of broader compliance and enforcement problems and set terms of reference.
The BMF is set to reconvene in October 2017. ABCB's 2016 Advisory Note on the fire performance of external walls and cladding was published last year.
As a result of the BMF's direction to expedite the implementation of measures addressing the non-compliant use of cladding, the ABCB has released its out-of-cycle NCC 2016 Volume One Amendment 1 public comment draft, with responses due by 10 September 2017. Measures highlighted as addressing fire safety are:
- completing and publishing AS 5113 as a method for fire propagation testing and classification of external walls as part of a Performance Solution;
- improving the clarity of wording in the relevant provisions of the NCC, particularly in relation to the use of external wall claddings and attachments;
- enhancing evidence of suitability provisions and developing a new supporting handbook to complement them;
- updating the National Advisory Note in respect to external wall claddings and assemblies to reflect any changes associated with the out-of-cycle amendment; and
- improving the CodeMark product certification scheme.
A new partnership between the Australian Made Campaign and Master Builders Australia has been announced aiming to increase the use of locally made products by the building and construction industry.