Queensland’s Minister for Housing and Public Works Mick de Brenn says he'll tackle non-compliance at the Building Ministers' Forum.

There’s a Building Ministers’ Forum this on the Gold Coast Friday and it should be discussing mandatory disclosure of energy for residential property, given that the Council of Australian Governments said it was about time to roll this out nationally.

This is a big deal. It’s been on the table before (but then the rabbit hole dwellers took over a few of the states and Canberra); the ACT has had it since 2003 and the Australian Sustainable Built Environment Council last month jumped in with a call for national consistency in ratings for housing sustainability

A recent media report said: “Almost all studies conducted to date indicate that better energy performance is linked to increased property value. An ABS study of the ACT scheme showed that, for a median-priced home, improving its energy rating by half a star adds about 1.2 per cent to its value.”

In other words, it makes so much sense it’s a bit crazy-making trying to explain why it’s important.

Sadly, but importantly, this topic will probably be overshadowed by a more urgent topic, the use of dangerous imported aluminium cladding on high rise buildings, which has already been implicated in fires that have taken lives overseas and in Melbourne caused a fire at the Lacrosse apartments at Docklands that will cost 312 apartment owners around $40 million to replace.

We’ve heard warnings for years about this problem and it’s gone hand-in-hand with lower standards for apartment towers and a general ideological belief in self regulation and the power of the market to self-correct.

Now the Lacrosse fire, the costs of other poor quality building foisted on unsuspecting owners and the potential erosion of Melbourne’s hitherto fabulous quality reputation has revealed the dangers of playing free market games with our most important asset – our homes and our cities.

That Brand Melbourne is seriously compromised was confirmed on Wednesday in a statement from the Victorian Building Authority that found 51 per cent of 170 buildings audited had used the same or similar material.

However the VBA wasn’t worried. In its media statement it said:

“Working with its regulatory partners, the City of Melbourne and the Melbourne Fire Brigade, it was determined that the buildings’ non-compliance did not pose a risk to the safety of occupants. Only one other building, the Harvest Apartments in Clarendon Street, South Melbourne, required immediate emergency action.”

Phew! That’s lucky. But luck should not come into it. And it’s certainly not the take other media had on the fiasco.

Non-compliance is non-compliance. If there is a regulation you can assume there is a reason for the regulation. Otherwise why have it.

Don’t blame the developers or the builders. They will do exactly what they have to do and as little as they can get away with. No great insights needed on that score (exempt high performing green developers prepared to rate their product). Blame instead the government and authorities that are not enforcing and checking. Actually blame laissez faire ideology that might work really well on the Stock Exchange floor but is a really bad idea when it comes to safety and our brand as a nation of quality.

Sydneysiders should not smirk. We’ve heard appalling stories from highly qualified people who have witnessed $3 million and $4 million apartments built without wall insulation and waterproofing in the bathrooms. Engineers Australia has even said a major high-rise fire in Sydney is “inevitable”, and that 85 per cent of strata buildings are defective upon completion. NSW, it said, had Australia’s worst building certification system.

In Queensland the ministers’ attention should be focused on progress but instead it will be forced to confront patching up the holes in dodgy practices.

Queensland’s Minister for Housing and Public Works Mick de Brenni said his state will tackle the issue of non-conforming building products at the meeting.

“The Palaszczuk Government recognises the issue of non-conforming and non-compliant building products is an important and complex matter of national significance,” Mr de Brenni said. He gets it: “national significance”.

“I’ve been made aware that the Victorian Building Authority has conducted an audit of high rise residential and public buildings,” he said.

“These findings confirm the Queensland Government’s decision to take a leadership role in the development of strategies to respond to this issue.”

Another thing de Brenni gets is that one way to ensure compliance from building products is to use Australian-made materials.

“We will then see flow-on effects that include the creation of more jobs for Australian workers.”

Why you need to contribute to Spinifex

Here’s a great advertisement for our Spinifex OpEd column, named because it’s for the people at the “pointy end of sustainability” that is, you, dear reader.

According to one of our contributors, Sean Maxwell, who has written for us on air tightness in buildings, it was exposure on The Fifth Estate that led to his new job with Melbourne based Efficiency Maxtrix, not to mention a swag of connections in the air tightness patch, many of whom congregated recently for the Passive House conference in Sydney.

When Maxwell arrived from New York early last year, by way of a pact with his wife, he had a dearth of contacts, he told us.

“I was finding it really hard to get the time of day from anyone,” he told us this week.

A short series of intelligent articles on the topic of his expertise and, Bingo, the calls and enquiries started to flow, he says.

The Fifth Estate really helped me,” he said. “The best thing I did was to write an article and let people know who I was and what I was about. It gives people a sense of your expertise.”

On how his patch is faring in the industry, he says demand is definitely on the rise.

“People are exited and there’s a lot of chatter,” he told us this week.

The Air Infiltration and Ventilation Association that represents the space is also getting more active with the range of cross disciplinary functions it touches.

Founder of Melbourne based Efficiency Matrix John Konstantakopoulos says his business has been steadily rising since he started manufacturing cupboards for recessed lighting that had insulation consistency that required blower testing for the cupboards and then realised there was a market for the same for the house.

He charges about $700 on average to pressure test a house and says he expects the business to steadily grow.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.