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Building Ministers Prepare for Industry-Wide Reforms

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Federal, state and territory building ministers have promised to deliver a joint implementation plan for progressing reforms recommended by the Shergold Weir “Building Confidence” report within the next few weeks.

The recent issues with Opal Tower and a fire at the Neo200 apartment tower in Melbourne just a few days before the forum, had compliance and confidence high on the agenda. The Melbourne Metropolitan Fire Brigade noted that combustible aluminium composite façade cladding helped play a role in the rapid spread of the fire, which reached five storeys of the Neo200.

An industry roundtable preceded the forum, attended by representatives from associations including the Australian Construction Industry Forum (ACIF),  Engineers AustraliaConsult AustraliaAustralian Institute of ArchitectsMaster Builders AustraliaFire Protection Association Australia, and Building Products Industry Council, among others.

“On the whole, Australia has good building regulations, especially compared to many countries around the world”

ACIF’s Executive Director, James Cameron, said the roundtable was a very productive meeting with “valuable dialogue on the issues affecting various sectors of the industry, and the industry as a whole.”

He said the industry representatives emphasised the need for the Shergold Weir Report’s recommendations to be implemented in a consistent and timely fashion. Aluminium Composite Panel (ACP) cladding was a major topic of discussion.

“On the whole, Australia has good building regulations, especially compared to many countries around the world,” Cameron noted. “However, there is definitely room for improvement, and this is where the recommendations of the Shergold Weir Report play an important part.”

He said ACIF will continue to advocate that all of the report’s 24 recommendations be implemented by May 2021.

Moreover, ACIF believes the announcement of the soon-to-be-released joint-implementation plan to be “encouraging.” The plan is going to set out the direction of the proposed reforms within each state and territory by the end of this month.

Industry Behind Shergold Weir Recommendations

Deputy CEO and General Manager Technical Services for the Fire Protection Association Australia, Matthew Wright, tells Jobsite some industry associations are wondering “what it is going to take for affirmative action” on the Shergold Weir recommendations.

Incidents like the Neo200 fire and the Opal Tower failures result in the public’s waning confidence in the industry, he said.

The whole of the industry, however, is behind the recommendations of the Shergold Weir report and has agreed to implementing them.

Wright noted that the BMF is yet to commit to a firm pathway, even though the ministers received the report 12 months ago. Nevertheless, Wright said, the level of industry consensus on enforcing the National Construction Code is undoubtedly the silver lining.

The National Construction Code also backs ensuring practitioners are both qualified to do the work and accountable for doing the work to the required standard. But, without action from the governments at federal, state and territory levels, lack of action is “undermining any credibility” the industry has.

Governmental Backing is Critical

Another issue for industry associations like FPA Australia is the ongoing consultations, now stretching into several years. They require ongoing inputs from them of time, expense and technical advice, often without delivering any concrete results for association members.

Meanwhile, the associations are putting enormous effort and resources into delivering value through themselves implementing or enhancing accreditation processes, specific training in units of competence, and measures around ongoing professional development.

However, Wright said governmental backing is of an essence. Until the government mandates these kinds of initiatives across the board, there won’t be a strong incentive for everyone in the industry to engage with these kinds of positive steps to improve overall levels of professionalism.

Restriction on Use of Combustible Products

Other matters that arose during the ministers’ closed-door discussions included an update on work to develop an Australian Standard for permanent labelling of ACPs. This initiative aims to improve supply chain accountability and ensure products are certifiably fit-for-purpose for projects under the National Construction Code’s rules around the use of ACPs. These rules include a restriction on the use of the combustible products for façade applications on high-rise residential buildings under the Deemed-To-Satisfy pathway.

In order to fast-track the Australian Standard for permanent labelling, the BMF agreed that a Technical Specification will be put in place first.

Changes to the National Construction Code which come into effect in May, were presented by the Australian Building Codes Board (ABCB) to the ministers. The ABCB was tasked with  preparing advice on the trajectory for low-carbon buildings recently endorsed by the COAG Energy Ministers. The BMF is next due to meet in July. Read the full February meeting communique here.

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