This Alert provides a summary of recent activity undertaken at the Federal and State levels and an insight into what is possibly coming. Each State has seen audits and reviews initiated or re-enlivened. Queensland is the first State to introduce legislation targeting non-conforming building products, including cladding. The Commonwealth has also been abuzz with activity culminating, most significantly, in the introduction of a bill that seeks to ban the importation of aluminium composite panels with a polyethylene core.
As activities progress, we will continue to bring you updates as to how our landscape is evolving.
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:
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 Coalition Senators released a dissenting report, disagreeing with recommendations 1 and 5, considering that:
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.
At the end of June, the Building Ministers Forum (BMF) announced that it:
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:
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.
The government announced on 3 July 2017 that it will establish an expert taskforce to investigate the extent of use of non-compliant cladding on Victorian buildings. The taskforce is jointly chaired by Ted Baillieu and John Thwaites. Worksafe Victoria, the Metropolitan Fire Brigade, the Victorian Building Authority (VBA), the Municipal Association of Victoria and Emergency Management Victoria will be represented on the taskforce. The taskforce will:
The New South Wales government has established a Fire Safety and External Wall Cladding Taskforce.
The Taskforce's priorities include:
The Environmental Planning and Assessment Amendment (Fire Safety and Building Certification) Regulation 2017 (NSW) come into effect on 1 October 2017. The amendment introduces new requirements affecting the design, approval, construction and maintenance of fire safety measures.
The NSW Minister for Better Regulation has outlined the NSW government's response in a 10 point plan:
Insofar as introducing new legislation aimed at providing a solution with respect to non-conforming products (including non-conforming cladding), Queensland has been first off the rank.
In May this year, the Queensland Minister for Housing and Public Works introduced a bill aimed at improving the State's building regulatory system. The bill addresses both non-conforming products as well as building workplace safety. The Explanatory Memorandum states that the objectives of the bill are to:
See here for a detailed MinterEllison OnSite post on the amendment bill.
A public hearing was held on 10 July 2017. The Public Works and Utilities Committee tabled its report on the bill on 4 August 2017, in which it recommended that the bill be passed.
An Audit Taskforce has also been established by the Queensland government following the detection of potentially non-conforming cladding on the Princess Alexandra Hospital at Buranda. The Taskforce will conduct an audit primarily focusing on buildings constructed between 1994 and 2004 using aluminium composite cladding, and will start by examining hospitals and aged care facilities, accommodation buildings, high occupancy public and private buildings and high rise office buildings. Former Deputy Premier and Treasurer Terry Mackenroth has been appointed as honorary chair of the taskforce.
The Queensland government has announced that following testing it became clear that cladding on the Princess Alexandra Hospital should be removed, and this process of removing and replacing the cladding is expected to take up to 18 months.
An audit led by the Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure has been accelerated by the South Australian government, with the audit's initial findings due to be reported by the end of July 2017. The audit will initially focus on buildings in the City of Adelaide. Where buildings are identified as containing aluminium composite panel cladding, a risk assessment will be conducted. If a building is deemed unsafe, cladding may need to be removed or fire prevention features may need to be installed.
The audit is now entering its second phase, which will involve an examination of the fire safety systems in the 77 buildings identified as warranting further investigation to confirm that cladding is installed in compliance with the NCC and fire safety measures.
In the Tasmanian government's submission to the Senate Inquiry on Non-Conforming Building Products, the Tasmanian Minister for Building and Construction confirmed that Tasmania will conduct a further audit of 'buildings where non-compliant use of claddings could result in an unacceptable risk to the community'.
The WA Building Commission is broadening its audit of APCs which was initiated after the 2014 Lacrosse building fire. The new scope includes all high-risk, high-rise buildings in WA with cladding attached. Buildings such as apartments, hotels and other short-stay accommodation will be prioritised in the audit.
The Australian Capital Territory government has announced that it will create a taskforce to determine whether any further actions, including physical inspections of buildings, may be required on developments where aluminium composite panels have been used.