Cracked tower ‘tip of ice­berg’ of faults

The Weekend Australian - - FRONT PAGE - SAM BUCK­ING­HAM-JONES

Aus­tralia’s con­struc­tion sys­tem should be au­dited “im­me­di­ately” and a ded­i­cated emer­gency fund set up for apart­ment res­i­dents dis­placed by dodgy build­ing work, a na­tional body rep­re­sent­ing $1.2 tril­lion of man­aged prop­erty says.

The chief ex­ec­u­tive of Aus­tralia’s peak strata body says poor build­ing qual­ity across the coun­try — in­clud­ing the use of flammable cladding, il­le­gal as­bestos and cheap elec­tri­cal ca­bles — should be an elec­tion is­sue for Prime Min­is­ter Scott Mor­ri­son and Op­po­si­tion Leader Bill Shorten.

Speak­ing for the first time since the start of the Opal Tower sit­u­a­tion in Syd­ney, in which a 392-apart­ment build­ing cracked and forced evac­u­a­tions on Christ­mas Eve, Alisha Fisher, CEO of the Strata Com­mu­nity As­so­ci­a­tion, said the in­ci­dent was the “tip of the ice­berg”.

“The bot­tom line is that the last 12 months have been a hor­ror story for the con­struc­tion sec­tor in Aus­tralia,” she said.

“Thou­sands of peo­ple im­pacted by flammable alu­minium cladding; we have prob­lems with glass pan­els, we have as­bestos prod­ucts brought in il­le­gally, and we have thou­sands of kilo­me­tres of de­fec­tive Chi­nese elec­tri­cal cable still out there.

“Like we’ve seen with the crack­ing at Opal Tower and in cases where build­ings with flammable cladding catch alight sud­denly, there’s no telling when Aus­tralian apart­ment own­ers will be next af­fected by poor con­struc­tion.

“This is an is­sue of po­ten­tially

epi­demic pro­por­tion and we be­lieve it needs to be treated that way with a na­tional con­struc­tion sec­tor au­dit.”

Shoddy con­struc­tion needs to be iden­ti­fied early, Ms Fisher said, and one pos­si­bil­ity to pro­tect own­ers was a fund­ing pack­age to act as “emer­gency as­sis­tance” — like drought or flood re­lief — for res­i­dents when a build­ing was found to be de­fec­tive.

Both the Coali­tion and La­bor re­jected Ms Fisher’s two ini­tial pro­pos­als, with the gov­ern­ment in­sist­ing it had been push­ing the states, who gov­ern con­struc­tion, to im­prove their sys­tems, while La­bor said it wanted to see all trades in­volved in the build­ing in­dus­try reg­is­tered and li­censed.

The na­tion’s con­struc­tion in­dus­try has been the fo­cus of sev­eral sen­ate in­quiries and ex­pert re­ports in at­tempt to bring about re­form, most re­cently the Sher­gold and Weir re­port, Build­ing Con­fi­dence, writ­ten by for­mer De­part­ment of Prime Min­is­ter and Cabi­net sec­re­tary Peter Sher­gold and con­struc­tion law vet­eran Bron­wyn Weir.

Their re­port, which was com­mis­sioned by the fed­eral gov­ern­ment-led Build­ing Min­is­ters’ Fo­rum, made 24 rec­om­men­da­tions, in­clud­ing that each state re­quire the reg­is­tra­tion of each trade in the con­struc­tion in­dus­try.

“The Lib­eral Na­tional gov­ern­ment heard con­cerns around the con­struc­tion in­dus­try and com­mis­sioned the Build­ing Con­fi­dence re­port,” act­ing In­dus­try Min­is­ter Matt Cana­van said.

“We have brought the states and ter­ri­to­ries to­gether, to make sure they meet their re­spon­si­bil­i­ties around build­ing and con­struc­tion and have al­ready be­gun work on an im­ple­men­ta­tion plan.”

Mr Cana­van said if Mr Shorten and La­bor sen­a­tor and in­dus­try spokesman Kim Carr were “gen­uine about re­form and the peo­ple af­fected, they would en­cour­age their state col­leagues to im­ple­ment the rec­om­men­da­tions as a mat­ter of pri­or­ity.”

Sen­a­tor Carr said a na­tional au­dit of all on­go­ing con­struc­tion would need to be done by each state.

He also said an emer­gency fund would be legally dif­fi­cult, due to the many law­suits that arise when a build­ing is deemed de­fec­tive.

“The es­tab­lish­ment of a fund would be an­other ex­cuse for peo­ple to avoid their le­gal li­a­bil­i­ties,” Sen­a­tor Carr said.

“I’m look­ing … at ways we can pro­vide bet­ter pro­tec­tions for the pub­lic in terms of safety, and that’s why we’ve moved to strengthen the Na­tional Build­ing Code and the is­sue of pub­lic safety and pub­lic ac­count­abil­ity through li­cens­ing.”

Sen­a­tor Carr said if elected La­bor would com­mit to im­ple­ment­ing a li­cens­ing scheme for all those in­volved in con­struc­tion and pass the rec­om­men­da­tions from the Sher­gold and Weir re­port “within two years”.

He said the cur­rent “woe­ful mess” of the build­ing sec­tor was the fail­ure of states to take re­spon­si­bil­ity.

If ne­go­ti­a­tions with the states failed, Sen­a­tor Carr said he would move to im­ple­ment a na­tional li­cenc­ing sys­tem.

Next month, the na­tion’s build­ing min­is­ters will meet to dis­cuss the find­ings of a Se­nior Of­fi­cers’ Group, which was tasked with ex­plor­ing how to im­ple­ment the find­ings of the Sher­gold and Weir re­port.

Mr Sher­gold told The Week­end Aus­tralian last month that he feared with­out change, there would be a loss of con­fi­dence in the Na­tional Con­struc­tion Code.

“I fear that’s hap­pen­ing,” he said.

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