The federal government has refused a Senate inquiry recommendation to ban the import, sale and use of aluminium composite panels with a flammable polyethylene (PE) core.

Friday’s meeting of the Building Ministers’ Forum saw governments agree to halt the use of aluminium cladding products with PE cores “for class 2, 3, or 9 buildings of two or more storeys, and class 5, 6, 7 or 8 of three or more storeys”, until further measures have been developed around product labelling and testing.

However, the agreement stopped short of a full ban on PE-core aluminium cladding recommended by the Senate committee, and which had the backing of a number of state governments and even the Property Council.

While PE-core cladding has a number of legal uses, including for signage and low-rise residential applications, the Senate inquiry said in the light of the Grenfell tragedy it did not consider any of those current uses as “legitimate”.

“The committee believes that as there are safe non-flammable and fire retardant alternatives available there is no place for PE core ACPs in the Australian market.”

However the federal government pointed to these legal uses as a reason for not implementing a ban.

“You would be banning across the board something that can be used legally in certain environments,” federal assistant minister for Industry Craig Laundy said.

He also said a ban was unhelpful because it was already illegal to use the cladding in many high-rise applications, and an import ban would not deal with the PE-core ACP manufactured in Australia, though the Senate committee had also recommended banning the sale and use of the products.

The announced restrictions in use of PE-core ACP will be in force until the ministers are satisfied manufacturers, importers and installers can comply with:

  • the newly established standard setting test against which fire retardant cladding products are deemed to be reasonable for use in high-rise settings
  • an established and implemented system of permanent labelling on cladding products to prevent substitution

The federal government will also provide regular updates to the state and territories on import data regarding ACP imports and other building products.

“This will help reduce the information barriers and support states and territories to track movements of cladding and ensure these products are used in ways that comply with the [National Construction Code],” the BMF communique said.

Inappropriate advertising and labelling will also be tackled using existing powers, and a national information standard will be created by the Consumer Affairs Forum.

Government refusal of ban “inexplicable”

NSW Minister for Better Regulation Matt Keane said he was “disappointed” the federal government had not supported the ban.

“I acknowledge and appreciate how seriously this issue is being treated by the Commonwealth, and a number of my state and territory colleagues, but it’s clear more needs to be done,” he said.

Queensland and WA were also pushing for an outright ban.

The Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union said the refusal to support a ban was putting the lives of construction workers and residents in high-rise buildings at risk.

“There is no question that this product is putting lives at risks or that it continues to be used on high-rise building projects,” CFMEU Construction national secretary Dave Noonan said.

“That is why the Senate inquiry into non-conforming building products last month called for urgent action – including an import ban – after hearing the testimony of fire safety experts.”

He said that fire authorities, unions, property developers and the opposition had supported the ban, and the government was “inexplicably digging in its heels and refusing to act”.

“Not only have they failed to act, they are actively fighting against a ban that will almost certainly save lives,” Mr Noonan said.

Minimum standards for accessibility on the cards

THE BMF also announced that a regulatory impact assessment would be undertaken regarding new minimum accessibility standards for private residential.

“The RIA will examine the silver and gold [Livable Housing Australia] performance levels as options for a minimum accessible standard; use a sensitivity approach; and be informed by appropriate case studies.”

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