The Federal Opposition is promising tougher penalties for builders who breach the National Construction Code and install the kind of cladding blamed for London’s Grenfell Tower fire.
- Tougher penalties will range from fines to deregistration
- Master Builders of Australia says increasing penalties won’t eliminate the problem
- Craig Laundy says cladding is made in Australia and commonly used in shopfronts
Under the code, it is illegal to use the material on high-rise buildings but shadow industry minister Kim Carr said the rule was constantly breached.
“You can drive a squadron of bulldozers through the current building regulations. There are just too many loopholes which the crooks can climb through,” he said.
He said the proposed tougher penalties would be set in consultation with the states but would range from fines to deregistration.
One of the biggest industry players, the Master Builders of Australia (MBA), is pushing back.
MBA’s chief executive Denita Wawn said she wanted to wait for the report of an expert panel before contemplating any penalty increases.
“We don’t think at this stage there’s evidence to show that just simply an approach to increasing penalties will necessarily be the answer to the problem,” she said.
She also said the cladding in question had been installed on high-rise buildings in Australia because of grey areas in the compliance rules.
“A good example is a building where there is a significant amount of timber,” she said.
“In some instances, that by itself would not be compliant but because of the sprinkler system around it and the fire system around it, it actually can be compliant.
“This is where it gets confusing and this is why we can’t take simplistic approaches to the way in which we deal with such an important issue.”
Flammable cladding around The Grenfell Tower was blamed for the fast spreading fire. (Reuters: Toby Melville)
Laundy ridicules import ban idea
Mr Carr said Labor’s policy would also include a new national licensing system for builders.
“At the moment, there are up to 19 different sets of regulators which means that no-one is held responsible when it comes to maintaining building standards in Australia,” he said.
Ms Wawn backed the introduction of a national licensing system but said she did not support Labor’s already announced plan to ban the cladding being imported into Australia.
“Obviously we always look at the commercial ramifications, but I think the important thing is we need to ensure that we don’t take an extreme approach to something before we have the appropriate evidence before us,” she said.
The Federal Minister responsible for construction, Craig Laundy has ridiculed the idea of an import ban, saying the cladding is made in Australia and commonly used in shopfronts and signage.
But he said the Government was looking at whether penalties for breaches of the construction code should be increased.