Fire trucks at Melbourne's Lacrosse building

The Victorian government has announced a state-wide audit of buildings to identify potentially lethal aluminium composite material cladding, in the wake of the UK’s Grenfell tragedy.

The government is establishing an expert Victorian Cladding Taskforce to investigate dodgy cladding, jointly chaired by former Liberal premier Ted Baillieu and former Labor deputy premier John Thwaites, who is also currently chair of Monash Sustainable Development Institute and ClimateWorks.

The government said the new taskforce would boost the state’s ability to detect and respond to dodgy cladding, and improve communication with residents, owners’ corporations and building managers.

It will involve representation from bodies including Worksafe Victoria, the Metropolitan Fire Brigade, the Victorian Building Authority, the Municipal Association of Victoria and Emergency Management Victoria. A stakeholder reference group will include building unions, the Master Builders Association and the Housing Industry Association.

“We’re bringing together the key agencies to better detect and address the issue of materials used in a non-compliant way,” planning minister Richard Wynne said.

Mr Thwaites said those involved in building projects would be engaged by the taskforce.

“We’ll be playing a key role ensuring builders, architects, engineers, surveyors and building owners and managers are all aware of their responsibilities during construction,” he said.

The announcement follows an audit of Melbourne buildings that came in the wake of the Lacrosse fire. It has now assessed more than 220 buildings, finding that a large proportion did not comply with regulations, though all have now been deemed safe to occupy.

A government statement said the taskforce would oversee the continuing audit and ensure rectification work occurs more quickly.

“This is a critical public safety issue – agencies, stakeholders and all Victorians need to work together to ensure cladding complies with our strict regulations and buildings are safe,” Mr Baillieu said.

Mr Wynne also said the issue needed federal attention, with more effort required to stop dodgy materials entering Australia from overseas.

“The Commonwealth has to play a more active role too. We’ll keep pushing the federal government to better detect non-conforming products entering Australia.”

Industry calls out “knee-jerk” reaction

The news, however, came as the Building Products Innovation Council launched a stinging rebuke on governments for failure to act on the issue of non-conforming materials, calling audits a “knee-jerk political reaction”, and a waste of time and money.

BPIC chair Elizabeth McIntyre said audits conducted already had failed to result in rectification works and prosecutions.

“Calling for more audits is only going to tell what we already know,” Ms McIntyre said. “And besides, these cladding audits will miss or ignore all the other non-compliance issues in buildings that can lead to the kind of disaster we have seen in the UK.”

BPIC is calling for a more thorough and widespread audit of building non-compliance, in association with free building inspection and non-compliance testing services provided to residents who suspect or find out their buildings are at risk.