Karen Andrews: So, today the building ministers from states and territories and, of course, with the Commonwealth Government have reached a significant milestone in protecting Australians into the future. Agreement has been reached at the Building Ministers’ Forum today in respect of the future of cladding in this country. An agreement has been reached by all ministers at the table today, in principle, for there to be a total ban on the use of cladding for new construction; subject to proper investigation and some discussions with industry. We heard earlier this morning from industry about issues associated with cladding, and building and construction. There was a very strong view that, especially with existing buildings, the issue is compliance. It is an issue of enforcement of some fairly strong regulations that already exist in Australia. The National Construction Code makes it very clear that combustible cladding should not be used on high-rise buildings that are greater than about three storeys, about 25 metres. So, where any of that cladding has been installed; it is potentially in breach of the National Construction Code.
Victoria and New South Wales have already moved to ban the use of cladding on new construction over certain limits, so in particular circumstances. The states can now work on how they’re going to further implement changes in their own jurisdictions. Each state and territory can proceed immediately to implement bans in full but I would encourage them to bring industry with them; to talk to industry about what the implications are for existing building and also for new constructions.
Question: When it comes to existing, was there any discussion about audits and registers around cladding?
Karen Andrews: So, audits were discussed in terms of the Building Confidence Report, which is the Shergold Weir Report. So agreement has been reached that the implementation plan, which deals with a whole range of non-compliance issues. Each state and territory will provide for public scrutiny – so it will be uploaded to the website, the status of their implementation plan, so what they have currently done and what their plans are into the future, in terms of the recommendations for compliance and enforcement in their jurisdiction. That is a significant step forward in terms of transparency.
Question: Are the states moving quickly enough to fix what’s, you know, in the buildings already affected?
Karen Andrews: We recognise that there is a timeliness issue here and that we need to move forward at a very fast pace to deal with these issues. There’s an issue of concern too to residents of high-rise apartment blocks, and of course, workers in commercial buildings. I think there is a willingness from all of the states to work together, and I’m pleased to have been able to facilitate those discussions today, but there is a willingness to work together to resolve this in the most timely manner possible. So, there will be further report-backs at the next Building Ministers’ Forum meeting, which will be scheduled for July. So, approximately four months’ time, but in the meantime the senior officers from each jurisdiction will be working towards making sure that they are progressing these issues.
Question: Do you think they are progressing quickly enough though?
Karen Andrews: They are progressing. Most certainly. Victoria and New South Wales in terms of the bans that they have implemented, have certainly progressed quite quickly. I would like to see things progressing as fast as possible, but we need to make sure that we are taking into account the consequences of any action, in terms of the total bans. We know we have existing problems with existing buildings and we need to make sure we are setting ourselves up well for the future.
Question: Just quickly, moving away from cladding, over Christmas people were quite shocked to see the cracks in the Opal Tower. Was any of that discussed today, any changes around that area?
Karen Andrews: Look, briefly. It forms part of the Building Confidence Report. So New South Wales have certainly taken the lead on that and are looking at implementing their own strategies in the state, so it’s a positive but it impacts on the compliance and enforcement issues and industry reinforced that this morning; that there is clearly a problem. For example, the National Construction Code is very clear in relation to cladding; it should not be on high-rise buildings above 3 storeys, 25 metres, so where that has been in place, it is a compliance and enforcement issue.