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    Senate Inquiry tackles non-conforming building products

    David Wheeldon

     Recent events have added momentum to the long-running campaign for more stringent measures to stop dodgy materials making it into Australia’s building product supply chain. 

     Announcing a national inquiry, Independent Senator for South Australia, Nick Xenophon referenced the recent high profile cases of “massive windows falling off the new ASIO headquarters in Canberra and a high-rise building fire in Melbourne’s Docklands last year that quickly spread when the exterior cladding - imported from China - caught on fire, something that should have been impossible under Australian building regulations”.

    The senator acknowledged that the building industry has been demanding action for years amid rising safety concerns about substandard imported building materials “and the lax rules that let them into the country”.

    Xenophon said a key focus of the inquiry will be the inspection and regulation framework that was “clearly failing”.

    “This inquiry is a breakthrough in addressing what many in the building industry and their clients have known for some time: Australia has become a dumping ground for some of the world’s dodgiest and most dangerous building products,” he said.

    Groups actively campaigning on the issue include the Housing Industry Association, Master Builders, Australian Institute of Architects (AIA), Australian Windows Association and the Australian Industry Group.

    AIA chief executive David Parken recently commented to members.

    “This is an important issue and we will continue to be active with sensible recommendations to government on how to improve the system of project delivery to give more certainty that products specified are tested and compliant and in fact installed in projects,” he said.

    Many of the groups are also members of the Australian Construction Industry Forum, which is looking at the issues from holistic point of view covering the National Construction Code, standards, testing, certification, specifications and compliance. 

    The building union is also on side, with its leader Michael O’Connor voicing their concerns.

    “Whether it be aluminium, whether it be steel, whether it be glass, curtain walls, whether it be kitchen cabinets, cladding — nearly every type of building material that you can imagine is imported into this country, lots of it from China and nobody is checking whether it meets our standards,” the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) national secretary said.

     

    The Senate Inquiry will address:

    1) The economic impact of non-conforming building products on the Australian building and construction industry

    2) The impact of non-conforming building products on:

    • Industry supply chains, including importers, manufacturers and fabricators
    • Workplace safety and any associated risks
    • Costs passed on to customers, including any insurance and compliance costs
    • The overall quality of Australian buildings

    3) Possible improvements to the current regulatory frameworks for ensuring that building products conform to Australian standards, with particular reference to the effectiveness of:

    • Policing and enforcement of existing regulations,
    • Independent verification and assessment systems,
    • Surveillance and screening of imported building products, and (iv) restrictions and penalties imposed on non-conforming building products

    4) And “any other related matters”.

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