Kristin Brookfield – HIA calls for Senate Inquiry into poor building products

Shoddy building products, especially those imported from overseas, have risen to the top of industry concerns with the Housing Industry Association calling for a Senate Inquiry into non-conforming products and the Building Products Innovation Council furious that the ACCC wants to dumb down Australian Standards on products to bring them into line with lower international standards.

The ACCC denies the claims and meanwhile has launched a “consumer awareness campaign” around faulty electrical cables.

According to BIPC, however, the move by the ACCC to swap Australian for international standards “opens the flood gates for foreign manufacturers to import poor quality and non-conforming goods, putting Australian consumers at risk and leaving local businesses wearing the cost of replacing faulty products,” the BPIC said.

It was “appalled that the ACCC are aggressively pushing for the degradation of safety standards within Australia.”

The industry instead wants hard standards that must be complied with and is angry these are dismissed by government as “red tape” BPIC chair Elizabeth McIntyre said.

“Let’s be very clear, Australian Standards are not unnecessary ‘red tape’ as the government implies. Most Australian Standards have been developed precisely because there was no adequate international standard to adopt or the international standard was not suitable for Australian circumstances,” Ms McIntyre said.

“If an international standard was previously passed over in favour of creating an Australian standard then BPIC has grave concerns that the ACCC, Standards Australia or any other regulatory body would adopt it in the future.”

An article by Willow Aliento in The Fifth Estate in October last year Product non-compliance endemic in construction industry outlined a litany of waste from non-complying building materials, believed to be the major cause of an estimated 30 per cent waste on all construction projects.

The Australasian Procurement and Construction Council and industry groups are tackling the problem with a best practice guide, Procurement of Construction Products – a guide to achieving compliance which was released last year.

But BPIC wants more than guides. In recent times members including Australian Window Association, HIA and the Insulated Panel Council Australasia made submissions voicing their concerns, it said.

“It is beyond our comprehension that the statutory authority (ACCC) whose role it is to enforce provisions that protect consumers from unsafe goods, would think that lowering safety standards is an effective way of carrying out their statutory responsibility.

“Recent tragic events involving faulty electrical cables, ear phones and building fires in apartment blocks in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane are cases in point. Once again we are now at the mercy of bureaucrats in Canberra who don’t understand the implications of low stringency standards.

“We will be seeking an urgent meeting with the minister to try and stop this erosion of hard-won consumer protection mechanisms,” Ms McIntyre said.

ACCC deputy chair Delia Rickard said the ACCC was firmly committed to protecting consumers in Australia and would only endorse an international standard or risk assessment that provided “an acceptable level of safety to the community.

“Recently, the government proposed that Australian regulators, including the ACCC, accept trusted international standards and risk assessments to reduce duplication of regulatory approvals, reduce delays, increase competition and improve business competitiveness in Australia,” Ms Rickard said.

“The government is adopting the principle that if a system, service or product has been approved under a trusted international standard or risk assessment, then Australian regulators should not impose any additional requirements, unless there is a good and demonstrable reason to do so.”

She said the ACCC has been conducting consultation with industry on the proposal to ensure any overseas standard considered for adoption was from a comparable jurisdiction to Australia, that the international standard or risk assessment was applicable to the Australian context and that its acceptance would not reduce the level of safety for consumers.

The HIA calls for Senate inquiry

Meanwhile HIA building products spokesperson Kristin Brookfield said the ACCC’s campaign on Infinity Cables, which could have been installed in up to 40,000 properties, “must surely be the catalyst for a formal inquiry.”

“The problem of non-genuine and non-tested building materials and components making their way into the building product supply chain is growing. Regardless of where something is manufactured, it should meet Australian compliance standards,” Ms Brookfield said.

“With more and more products being manufactured offshore, and increased access to these products by individuals, the need to focus on compliance has never been greater.

“A key concern is that the evolution of compliance and enforcement in Australia has not kept pace with changes to our economy, global supply chains, and how or where products are manufactured or sourced.”

“Manufacturers who do the right thing are being disadvantaged against those fail to test and confirm that products meet Australia’s compliance standards.”

Ms Brookfield said terms of reference should include:

  • The extent of building product non-conformance across the Australian building and construction industry.
  • The impact of building product non-conformance on Australia’s product supply chain, including the effect on consumers, building costs and compliance.
  • The current regulatory framework, including any gaps in regulatory coverage.
  • Recommendations on alternatives to improve the regulatory coverage of building product conformance, and options to enhance surveillance screening on imported building products.

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  1. This is something we covered in the National Energy Efficient Buildings Project report published in December last year. We made recommendations to state/territory and the Federal Government to address widespread claims of product substitution and non-compliant products, inter alia but, so far as I’m aware, no action has been taken in this area. There are some important ‘Phase 2’ projects happening under NEEBP – eg, auditing Class 1 dwelling compliance, developing an Electronic Buildings Passport and looking further at complliance issues with alterations and additions – but there were 47 recommendations in our report….