UPDATED 8 October 2017: Federal Labor is pressuring the Turnbull government to announce a ban on flammable polyethylene (PE) cladding, ahead of Friday’s meeting of the Building Ministers’ Forum.
By Friday, however, assistant minister for Industry, Innovation and Science Craig Laundy had rejected the call, which had been backed by industry bodies.
“You would be banning across the board something that can be used legally in certain environments,” he told ABC Radio on Friday.
The Queensland government had called the meeting of federal and state building ministers “D Day” for the adoption of a PE cladding ban, a major recommendation of the long-running Senate inquiry into non-conforming building products’s interim report.
It is believed thousands of buildings may be fitted with defective cladding.
Labor leader Bill Shorten said if Mr Turnbull would not act on the recommendations, a ban would be imposed as “a matter of urgency” by Labor if it won the next election.
“Malcolm Turnbull has the perfect opportunity to gain the states’ support on banning the importation of PE aluminium composite panels when the Building Ministers’ Forum meets tomorrow,” a media statement said.
“We already know that unsafe cladding kills. We need to do everything we can to protect Australians from a tragedy like Grenfell in the United Kingdom.”
The hardline stance might have viewed as posturing given the government was widely expected to announce a ban in response to the Senate inquiry’s findings. There is only limited industry opposition to the move, with even the Property Council of Australia last month announcing its support.
“For the sake of public confidence, the industry supports such a ban,” PCA chief executive Ken Morrison said.
However, Mr Laundy had previously flagged his stance calling a ban “impractical and impossible”.
Mr Shorten said the government had consistently said the National Construction Code was adequate, but had to date failed to “remedy the clear dangers created by the failure to enforce the code”.
“Each day the Turnbull Government fails to respond to the widespread misuse of these dangerous products, more Australian lives are being put at risk,” he said.
“Malcolm Turnbull must bring an end to the regulatory buck passing and shirking his responsibility to protect the Australian public.”
Other recommendations of the Senate inquiry included:
- Works to implement a national licensing scheme for all building practitioners
- Imposing a penalties regime for non-compliance with the National Construction Code, including revoking accreditation, banning from tendering in Commonwealth contracts and financial penalties
- Adequately resourcing the Federal Safety Commissioner ensuring that it is able to carry out its duties with new audit functions and projected work flows
- Working to establish a nationally consistent statutory duty of care for end users in the residential strata sector
- Bringing more representatives of the supply chain into the working of the Building Minister’s Forum
- Considering making all Australian Standards and codes freely available to the construction industry