A new Senate committee has been formed to inquire into the issue of non-conforming building products entering the Australian construction industry through illegal imports.

The original committee, which was tasked with reporting on the problem by 12 October 2015, was granted a series of extensions before being finally dissolved at the time of the last federal election. The re-formed Senate committee has been provided with expanded terms of reference to look into the illegal import of asbestos into the country. This committee has been given time until 25 May 2017 to complete their inquiry and report on the matter.

Additional terms of reference have been included in the inquiry following the asbestos scares in major buildings across the country. These include discoveries of asbestos tainted products at Brisbane’s 1 William Street and the $1.2 billion Perth Children’s Hospital in July, as well as a more recent asbestos discovery at the construction site of the new Royal Hobart Hospital in Tasmania.

To top it all off, more asbestos was discovered in imports from China in August, this time by the Australian Border Force at the Port of Brisbane.

Specifically, the new inquiry into non-conforming building products will cover:

The illegal importation of products containing asbestos and its impact on the health and safety of the Australian community, with particular reference to:

a. the prevalence and sources of illegally imported products containing asbestos;

b. the effect of illegally imported products containing asbestos on: industry supply chains, including importers, manufacturers and fabricators, and, workplace and public safety and any associated risks;

c. possible improvements to the current regulatory frameworks for ensuring products containing asbestos are not illegally imported to Australia, with particular reference to the effectiveness of: policing, enforcement, surveillance and screening of imported products, including restrictions and penalties imposed on importers and end users of products containing asbestos; preventing exposure and protecting the health and safety of workers and other people affected by the illegal importation of products containing asbestos; establishing responsibility for remediation of sites where illegally imported products containing asbestos has been found; and coordination between Commonwealth, state and territory governments and the role of the Australian Government in coordinating a strategic approach to preventing the importation of products containing asbestos.

Free online building products register to fight non-conforming building products

Meanwhile, an online National Construction Product Register database (NCPR) should be up and running next year and will assist the construction industry in finding building products that conform to Australian standards.

The Board of Construction Information Systems Limited (NATSPEC) is developing the web portal in response to concerns from government and industry organisations that an increasing number of non-conforming construction materials are being used on Australian buildings.

This initiative is supported by industry organisations including: Air Conditioning and Mechanical Contractors’ Association of Australia, Australian Institute of Building, Australian Institute of Building Surveyors, Australian Institute of Quantity Surveyors, Consult Australia, Engineers Australia, Master Builders Australia and Standards Australia.

Submissions to the inquiry will close on 1 December 2016.

More information on making a submission here