Robbie Buck: Now if you live in an apartment block here in Sydney, did you look at the images from Melbourne last week with that fire and think, good grief, I wonder if it could happen here? The fire was in Spencer Street in Melbourne, it spread up the side of a high-rise building, and it had been audited by the Victorian Cladding Taskforce but was only deemed a moderate risk. Well, fire services believe the building was clad with aluminium composite materials – or ACM – which is similar to that which clad the Grenfell Tower in London, of course, with that horrible, that tragic fire in which 72 people died. The Victorian State Government is calling for a national approach to ban the use and importation of the flammable cladding products. Now, I thought after Grenfell, there was a freeze on these products and that we were putting a ban on them. But it’s not the case apparently. Today, in Hobart, Australia’s building ministers are meeting for a forum chaired by the federal government, looking at cladding on Australia’s buildings. Karen Andrews is the federal Industry Minister, she’s in Hobart right now ahead of the forum. Good morning to you.
Karen Andrews: Good morning. How are you?
Wendy Harmer: Good, thank you. I supposed as in all things, Minister, the challenge is to get some kind of coordinated approach from the state?
Karen Andrews: It certainly will be aiming to do that at the Building Ministers’ Forum today. Whilst it is an extensive agenda that we have, the key priority issue will be compliance and enforcement systems across Australia, progress that has been made in each state and cladding is a symptom of the broader compliance and non-compliance issues.
Robbie Buck: Minister, I’m sure there are a few people who agree with me who may be a bit surprised that after the Grenfell Tower and after all the discussions that we’ve had, that there are still buildings using this cladding and that we haven’t had a resolution to it.
Karen Andrews: Okay, well lets- there’s a couple of points to make with that. Firstly, the National Construction Code already prohibits the use of that combustible cladding on high-rise buildings, generally over three storeys. So that’s already been prohibited. States actually have also moved – because states have responsibility for building regulation -they’ve also moved to ban the products in very similar terms. So that’s in place, but the ban doesn’t deal with cladding on existing buildings.
Robbie Buck: Okay.
Karen Andrews: It’s on new buildings. So that’s what the issue has been. So the Neo 200 building in Melbourne was an existing building, so the action that had been taken to ban the product on high-rise buildings over three storeys did not impact on that.
Robbie Buck: Okay.
Wendy Harmer: So are we looking at a scenario where that that building- that cladding is going to be stripped from those buildings?
Karen Andrews: That’s what the states and territories need to actually consider with their implementation plans. What they’re going to do. Now, each state and territory has taken a slightly different approach to the auditing and the buildings that they have considered to be priorities for audits and for rectification work in the first instance. Obviously, where there’s high-risk buildings, then the state and territories will need to move towards their rectification which would be the product coming off and being replaced. Look, we also need to bear in mind that, whilst it is a combustible product and the National Construction Code has been very clear on what its usage should be, there are circumstances where it is deemed to be a low-risk as well, which is on buildings below three stories, where instead of it being a vertical, one, it’s actually a horizontal one.
Wendy Harmer: Yeah, sure.
Karen Andrews: So, there are circumstances where it is considered a lower-risk.
Wendy Harmer: And how is the federal government helping in this instance? As you say, you’re going to offer this forum so everyone can coordinate their approach. Will there be any financial help for state governments who want to tackle this cladding?
Karen Andrews: Well, states and territories have responsibilities for building regulation.
Wendy Harmer: No, okay so…
Karen Andrews: And yeah- and we should not dismiss the whole issue of building compliance because quite frankly, the National Construction Code has been clear that this product should not be installed on buildings above three storeys. If it has been installed, then the biggest issue is why there has been noncompliance with the National Construction Code.
Wendy Harmer: Well, taking about that National Construction Code, you’d be familiar with Sydney’s Opal Tower, of course. Well, I guess people are worried about buildings being hastily and shoddily built: is that something that you’ll be talking about today too?
Karen Andrews: We’ll be speaking about the report that was actually commissioned by the Building Ministers’ Forum, by Shergold and Weir and the implementation plans for that which deals with the noncompliance issue. I mean, that’s what they – Shergold and Weir – we were actually tasked to do was to assess compliance and enforcement systems that are in place across Australia. So, because we have a system where each state and territory has responsibility for their own building regulations, there are differences across all of the states. So we’ll be talking about that. Look, I’m happy to look at where there can be national consistency, but that’s up to the willingness of the states to be part of a national response.
Robbie Buck: And I guess at the heart of this, a lot of people will be wandering if they are in apartment blocks that have that cladding on it who’ll be footing the bill for it? I take it will be residents in a lot of cases.
Karen Andrews: Well, look, I think there is still a lot of work to be done with regard to who actually has responsibility and who has the liability for that. But just on that point with the residents, one of the issues in Victoria was that it appeared that at least some of the residents have no idea that their building had any cladding on it. So, one of the things that I think is important is for the states and territories to have good look on how are they going to make sure that residents and workers in buildings that are affected know that there is an issue. So, I take on board what’s been said about risks in making that publicly available, understand all of that, but the question for the states and territories will be how people in affected buildings will be made aware of the issue.
Robbie Buck: Alright. Well, we look forward to seeing the outcomes of it. Good luck with the meeting today.
Karen Andrews: Thank you very much, pleasure taking to you.
Robbie Buck: You too.
Wendy Harmer: Thank you, bye bye.
Robbie Buck: Karen Andrews is the Minister for Industry, Science and Technology. She’s in Hobart this morning where this meeting of Australia’s building ministers will be taking place.