States agree to take ‘nationally consistent’ approach to building safety standards | Australia news
State and territory ministers have agreed to take a “nationally consistent approach” to building industry safety standards, according to the federal industry minister.
On Thursday Karen Andrews declared that she had brokered an agreement after meeting building and housing ministers to discuss industry complaints about skyrocketing insurance costs and the patchwork response to safety concerns.
Under the deal, the commonwealth and states will jointly fund an “implementation team” within the Australian Building Codes Board to oversee the response to the Shergold-Weir report into construction safety issues, released in April 2018.
That follows demands from New South Wales, Queensland and other states not to create a new bureaucracy to deal with the issue.
Andrews told reporters in Sydney that states will retain responsibility for rectification of building works – including combustible cladding – reiterating that the commonwealth will not co-fund rectification, as Victoria proposed on Tuesday.
On Monday industry groups united to call for a risk assessment strategy for combustible cladding, an agreed timetable for rectification and a joint government-industry taskforce to oversee recommendations from the Shergold-Weir report.
The report called for the establishment of a compulsory product certification system for high-risk building products and nationally consistent technical standards for the construction of buildings and for plumbing work across Australia.
Andrews said the call for nationally consistent standards had been “the most contentious” recommendation, but had been agreed by states and territory ministers on Thursday.
“Consumers right across Australia and members of the building and construction sector can rest assured their state and territory governments are committed to resolve the issues that have plagued the sector for many many years.”
Andrews said there is now a “pathway to a lower risk profile” and called on insurers to stay in the market and lower premiums.
But there were few other outcomes to report from the meeting – with Andrews explaining that there will be “further discussion” with insurers about a timetable for reduction of premiums and the new implementation team will decide on a timetable for states to comply with other recommendations.
Andrews said states and territories will take a “two stage” approach to dealing with combustible cladding: firstly to deal with the legacy caseload of existing buildings with unsafe materials, and secondly to develop a “program for the future” to prevent unsafe works.
Ken Morrison, the chief executive of the Property Council, said the meeting was “very positive”. “We are going to have a consistent approach to the implementation of the reforms that building ministers have had in front of them for 18 months,” he said.
“There is lot of work to do but it is a big step up today and we welcome the fact that ministers have put aside their state by state parochialism.”
Earlier, the Queensland housing minister, Mick de Brenni, defended states’ implementation of reforms, telling Radio National they “haven’t been dragging heels” but had each started from a different base.
For example, he noted that just 17 buildings in Queensland have been identified so far as needing rectification of combustible cladding, a “very different” situation from that in New South Wales and Victoria, the latter of which has identified 500 buildings.
De Brenni renewed his call on the commonwealth to ban the import of combustible aluminium panels.
On Tuesday Victoria announced a $600m fund to rectify combustible cladding, with half to be funded by the state government and half from a levy on permits for buildings worth more than $800,000, because the federal government refused to co-fund the initiative.
That prompted a furious response from the Property Council, which warned it would add “untenable costs to new construction projects in that state”.