27 November 2017
(Debate, 22 November 2017, Legislative Assembly, NSW Parliament)
I welcome the Building Products (Safety and Suitability) Bill, which aims to end the unsafe use of building products in construction.
The horrific Grenfell Tower fire raised serious questions about safe building practices across the world and I welcome the minister’s action to identify high rise apartments that could be affected.
This is very important in my electorate where more than three quarters of homes are apartments and massive redevelopment projects are occurring or planned such as in Barangaroo and The Bays Precinct.
Fast tracking development has taken priority in recent years over ensuring homes are built to a high standard, including on safety, sustainability and aesthetics. The worst outcome is a home with defects and I regularly hear from constituents who have bought homes with significant defects, but due to the tight deadlines and strict definitions in statutory warranties, are excluded from getting any redress.
While this bill does not address the defects crisis following successive changes that have favoured builders and developers, it will help reduce unsafe practices with building products.
The bill will provide a framework for identifying the unsafe use of building products through testing and assessment and give the Fair Trading Commissioner the power to ban the way a product is used, such as in a class of buildings, if it is found to be unsafe.
The commissioner will be able to test a product or order a manufacturer or supplier to test it.
I understand independent testing of building products in Australia needs to be improved because the National Construction Code does not require Australian certification. Builders, architects and project managers are often under pressure to keep construction costs down and often have the option to use cheaper products that appear the same as more expensive products and it can be difficult to determine their quality or safety. Professionals rely on online blogs and word of mouth. Sometimes there are few alternative products. The government should be testing more products before they are allowed to be used rather than force the industry to rely on overseas manufacturer certification, particularly in countries with more lax rules around safety or with different environmental conditions. Much has focussed on fire safety but there are also concerns with toxicity, waterproofing, ventilation and installation.
There is a concern that the approach to banning the use of a product in a particular way as adopted in this bill is inferior to banning the supply of products for particular purposes. I understand that it has been argued that the suppliers for the Lacrosse tower in Melbourne where a fire spread quickly across the building in 2014 due to aluminium cladding should have known that the cladding would have been used for a high rise based on the amount that was ordered.
I trust the minister will monitor the process and make changes if necessary. For the process in this bill to work, the government will need to quickly inform the construction industry including builders, architects, project managers, private certifiers and councils of all bans introduced in a timely manner, and provide information on alternative products that would be more appropriate. Suppliers will also need to be informed and should be required to discuss the use of their products with consumers to ensure they are not being used in an unsafe way.
The government’s initial audit of New South Wales apartment buildings found over a thousand buildings could have unsafe cladding and this bill supports further work to identify and rectify buildings to make them safe. Rectifying buildings will be a costly exercise and I am concerned that again, like with other defects, owners will be forced to foot the bill for dangerous and inadequate building practices. There is no guarantee that unsafe cladding will fall within warranty close off dates and I expect in most situations, owners will be forced to pay.
This is unfair and governments need to start protecting home owners, who are often forced into hardship after purchasing faulty homes, over protecting builders and developers from action against them.
I welcome transparency provisions in the bill which will ensure prospective home buyers will be able to find out whether a building has been constructed using products that pose a safety risk. I ask that the government ensure that renters are also able to find out about their home’s safety, and where their home is unsafe, be given the option to break a lease and time to find a safe home.
Making homes safe must be a priority and I welcome this bill. I hope for more bills in the future to reduce defects and to help owners get redress.