Better use of existing regulation and the development of a register for complying products are critical strategies in the battle against building materials which do not meet required standards in Australia, a leader in the construction products manufacturing sector says.

As the Senate Inquiry into non-conforming products (NCPs) produces its interim report, Productwise managing director Peter Mulherin said Australia should make better use of existing regulations relating to product conformity before considering any new regulation.

According to Mulherin, a large part of the problem with regard to the regulation of non-complying products revolves not so much around a lack of regulation but moreover a lack of communication and coordination amongst three tiers of government and two industries – manufacturing and construction – resulting in a lack of control with regard to what is going into our buildings.

He says rather than introducing new regulation into this environment, it would be better instead to tighten enforcement of existing regulation and to improve coordination with regard to efforts aimed at reducing the incidence of NCPs in Australia.

“My experience in manufacturing lends me to believe that unless you tightly control the situation as it is under the status quo, making more changes will bring on unintended consequences,” Mulherin said. “Let’s say you are building a ship. If you keep on making changes and you don’t establish a baseline design or a baseline program, if you add more change, you are adding change to change, you are adding change to something that in an existing state of flux.

“My argument is that you actually need to stabilise existing regulation. You need to make existing regulation work and understand the implication of that before you make more change.”

Mulherin’s comments follow the release of an interim report from the Senate Inquiry into NCPs which concluded that there had been “a serious breakdown in the regulation and oversight of both non-conforming and non-compliant building products” which required determined action.

The report also concluded that the committee should continue its work once the new Parliament is established.

The senate report alo followed the release of a draft consultation report by the Senior Officers’ Group that was established by the Building Ministers’ Forum which noted that there were a number of barriers preventing the collecting and reporting of NCP data in Australia, serious gaps in investigative and enforcement processes with regard to NCPs and that there was confusion regarding responsibilities and how to obtain information regarding NCPs.

As well as stabilising existing regulation, Mulherin says Australia needs a technological solution through an online register of certified products which brings together the National Construction Code, each state’s interpretation of the Code and local council enforcement of the Code.

Under this idea, builders looking to buy a sheet of external glass to install in the fourth floor of a commercial office building, for example, would be able to use the register not only to determine whether or not the material complies with the Code but also find out about the standards, codes of practice and regulations which apply to glass in the situation concerned.

Whilst he acknowledges his vested interest in this area as his company has in fact created a register of compliant products, Mulherin says this would help in compliance by enabling suppliers to identify what they need to comply with and designers to understand with confidence which products they are able to specify. It would also enable builders to select products from the register which they knew had been certified as compliant.