Australia’s leading architecture body has slammed what is says is a lack of progress in dealing with flammable cladding and dangerous building products.

Following the reiteration of commitments to address the issue at the Building Minister’s Forum (BMF) in Hobart, the Australian Institute of Architects (AIA) says slow progress in this area is jeopardising public safety.

AIA National President Clare Cousins says last Monday’s fire at Melbourne’s NEO 200 building on Spencer Street was a reminder of what is at stake.

“Governments have an opportunity and responsibility, having identified the danger and risk posed by certain types of flammable cladding, to do something about it before any lives are lost,” Cousins said.

‘Sadly it is an opportunity they appear to be squandering.”

Cousin’s comment follow the BMF meeting in Hobart on Friday, at which representatives from industry joined with the ministers to discuss initiatives they are leading to complement BMF led reforms and to identify areas where further effort is required.

At the meeting, ministers:

  • Reaffirmed their commitment to developing a joint response to recommendations of the Shergold Weir report to improve compliance and enforcement systems within with the construction industry
  • Committed to release the joint implementation plan setting out the direction of proposed reforms of each jurisdiction before the end of February
  • Agreed ‘in principle’ to a nationwide ban on the unsafe use of combustible aluminium composite panels in new construction
  • Supported in-principle that building practitioners should own a duty of care to building owners (and subsequent building owners) in respect of residential construction work and certain commercial construction work for small business. If necessary, this will be provided for in legislation – an issue which will be considered at a future BMF meeting.
  • (To support the COAG Energy Council’s commitment to a trajectory for low energy buildings) asked the Australian Building Codes Board to provide advice on any changes to the trajectory, a holistic review of the energy efficiency provision of the National Construction Code and a regulatory impact process in respect of the trajectory which can take account for regional differences.

The in principle agreement to ban flammable cladding, however, will be subject to a cost benefit analysis.

This will take into account potential impacts on the supply chain, the construction sector, any unintended consequences and a proposed timeline for implementation.

The ministers have deferred further consideration on this until the next BMF meeting in July.

Cousins says the slow pace of action is unacceptable.

“A full year since receiving the Shergold-Weir report, Building Confidence, all we have is a commitment to release a ‘joint implementation plan’ addressing its recommendations by the end of this month,” she said.

“The biggest milestone achieved today was an ‘in principle’ agreement – subject to no less than five separate caveats – to a national ban on the unsafe use of combustible cladding in new construction.

“This is unacceptable and fails even the most basic test of common sense. Prohibiting any further installation of such products, without any equivocation, should have been the starting point.

“The Shergold-Weir report, Building Confidence, and the Senate Economics References Committee inquiry into non-conforming building products sets out a clear and sensible path to reform that has been backed by industry.”

“There is no reason to continue to delay implementation any longer.”

The latest developments come amid ongoing fears about building practices in Australia’s construction industry.

Audits by state agencies have revealed that thousands of buildings may have similar types of cladding which has contributed to the rapid spread of fire at the Grenfell, Lacrosse and Neo 200 buildings.

It also follows the evacuation of residents at Sydney’s Opal Tower on Christmas Eve after residents heard cracking sounds including a loud bang.