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    Senate enquiry finds potential tragedies in the building sector just waiting to happen

    Branko Miletic

    A senate inquiry has been told that Australia's lax building laws means that it could only be a matter of time before we see an Australian version of the Grenfell Tower fire tragedy.

    With submissions coming from the likes of Engineers Australia, the Australian institute of Building Surveyors, the Insurance Council of Australia and a host of commercial companies involved in the building industry, the evidence of the widespread use of potentially non-conforming building materials is beginning to stack up.

    The list of these potentially dodgy building materials includes everything from sub-standard materials all the way to non-functional sprinklers. 

    As if to underline this problem, yesterday, the cladding on Brisbane’s Princess Alexandra hospital was found to be combustible, according to the Queensland government.

    The senate inquiry heard also there are thousands of buildings across NSW and Victoria that also contain potentially defective cladding, like what was used in the ill-fated Grenfell Tower in London.

    Interviewed recently for Architecture & Design, the NSW minister for planning and housing, Anthony Roberts, said that the NSW government was keeping an eye on the situation concerning non-complying building materials.

    “NSW has been active at the national level working with other States and Territories and the Australian Building Codes Board to develop proposals to strengthen regulation to minimise the risk of using building products that do not comply with required standards,” said Roberts.

    Regardless of any senate inquiry, Elizabeth McIntyre, head of the Building Products Innovation Council is urging immediate action. 

    “The time for action is now and…with calls for manslaughter charges to be brought against UK politicians at all levels of government who let their non-compliant building debacle take place, it is hard to know what further motivation our Australian politicians need, to protect the health and safety of the public and prevent properties from being put at risk,” she said.

    Well before this senate enquiry, Builders Collective of Australia president Phil Dwyer is on record claiming that "There will be so many defects and problems in buildings that we won't be able to cope.”

    Now with this senate inquiry in full swing, there are many in both government and industry that hope finally, something will be done about the streamlining and enforcement of building standards across the continent

    With one submission asking how can it be possible that consumers have more protection when buying whitegoods than multi-million-dollar apartments, ALP leader Bill Shorten has joined the chorus for change calling for a nationalisation of all fire safety standards.

    Other political leaders have also added their opinions on this issue. "The London building tragedy demonstrates how critical it is to ensure that Australian building products comply with all Australian standards and regulations," Senator Nick Xenophon was recently quoted as saying.

    Perhaps the most eye-opening submission to the enquiry was from Scott Williams, the chief executive of Fire Protection Association of Australia.

    Williams pointed out to the enquiry that low-to-medium-rise buildings under 25 metres were at a huge risk of fire since they are not required to have monitored sprinkler systems installed. 

    If you added some combustible cladding to one of those buildings, says Williams, you would have the “most vulnerable building in Australia.”

    The enquiry continues.

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