States to audit non-compliant cladding materials

The Victorian government has announced that it will establish a taskforce charged with investigating the use of non-compliant cladding on Victorian buildings.

The taskforce will be jointly chaired by former Victorian premier Ted Baillieu, who trained and practised as an architect, and former deputy premier and planning minister John Thwaites.

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The taskforce will “bolster the state’s ability to detect and address non-compliant cladding, and ensure residents, owners’ corporations and building managers are better informed about the issue,” the state government said in a statement. It will have its first meeting this week.

The taskforce will also assemble a stakeholder reference group made up of organizations including building unions, the Master Builders Association of Victoria and the Housing Industry Association will also be established. A spokesperson for the Australian Institute of Architects has confirmed its involvement in the reference group.

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An audit of buildings in Victoria was ordered after a fire at the Lacrosse Building in Melbourne’s Docklands in 2014. More than 220 buildings in the state were assessed by the Victorian Building Authority (VBA) in the original audit and subsequent investigations. While all were deemed safe to occupy, the non-compliance rate found by the original VBA audit was 51 per cent. At the time of the audit report’s release in 2016, the VBA described the non-compliance rate of the use external cladding materials as “unacceptably high.”

In the wake of the Grenfell Tower disaster in the London borough of Kensington and Chelsea in June, Scott Williams, CEO of the Fire Protection Association of Australia, said, “It is obvious from the VBA audit that there is a major problem with compliance and enforcement. It is clear this situation is widespread across Australia and a fire event like we tragically witnessed last night is possible.”

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Elsewhere in Australia, the Queensland state government announced on 30 June that it had established an audit taskforce that would conduct a “targeted audit” of buildings constructed in the state “between 1994 and 2004 using aluminium composite cladding.” The decision to form the taskforce was made after a “possible non-conforming cladding product” was found on the Princess Alexandra Hospital in Brisbane.

On 4 July, the WA Building Commission confirmed it would broaden the scope of its audit of aluminium composite panels, which commenced following the fire at Melbourne’s Lacrosse building. The audit, which originally assessed apartment, hotel and public buildings more than three storeys high and built in the past 10 years, has been expanded to include “all high-risk, high-rise buildings in WA that have cladding attached.” The expansion of the audit comes after non-compliant cladding was found at a four-storey homeless youth housing complex in Leederville.

The South Australian government is also undertaking an audit of buildings in Adelaide. A spokesperson for the South Australian Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure told The Guardian Australia, “Following the tragic fire in London, the [department] has been asked to conduct the audit of buildings in Adelaide to assess fire risk issues relating to cladding, starting with residential buildings.”

SBS has reported the NSW government would make an announcement next week on what it would in relation to the issue.

In June, federal opposition leader Bill Shorten called an urgent parliamentary inquiry into cladding material. Various state governments have also called on the federal government to take action.

The federal Senate Economics References Committee announced that it would hold a public hearing on the use of non-compliant cladding products and the illegal importation of asbestos as part an already-existing examination of non-conforming building products, which will take place on 14 July in Melbourne. A national audit of non-compliant cladding products has not been ordered.

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