A group representing small builders in Australia has slammed Federal Labor over its rejection of calls for a Royal Commission into the building Industry.

The Builders Collective of Australia earlier this month wrote to major parties calling for a Royal Commission into the construction sector to address problems in building industry practices and regulation.

Whilst the Coalition is yet to respond, Labor Leader Bill Shorten has refused to support this call.

In a written response seen by Sourceable, an adviser to Mr Shorten acknowledged that a range of enquiries had uncovered systematic problems within the building regulatory regime, widespread failure to enforce building standards and a lack of accountability for safety in building practices.

But it rejected ideas of a Commission and instead restated Labor commitments made in 2017 for a four-point plan for reform.

Under the plan, Labor has committed to:

  • Ban the importation, future sale and use of highly flammable polyethylene (PE) cladding.
  • Establish a national licencing scheme for all building practitioners, with requirements for continued professional development.
  • Introduce a new penalties regime for all building practitioners who breach the National Construction Code.
  • Re-establish the Minister for Industry – not the junior Minister – as the Chair of the Building Ministers’ Forum.

As for the prospect of a Commission, Labor says numerous the need for change has already been highlighted by numerous inquiries.

These include the Shergold Weir report prepared for the Building Ministers Forum last year, a two-year Senate Inquiry into Non-Conforming Products, a review of building regulation in New South Wales by former secretary of NSW Treasury Michael Lambert and a Victoria Building Authority inquiry into cladding fires in Victoria.

What was needed now, the advisor said, was action.

“We take your point that Australia’s building and construction is in need of serious reform,” the advisor wrote.

“But we also believe now is the time for action – not another inquiry.”

This response has been slammed by Builders Collective of Australia President Phil Dwyer.

Dwyer said Labor’s plan was weak and failed to comprehend the scale and urgency of the problem.

“Major high-rise buildings are just a rogue ember away from burning, others are at risk of collapse, and there are thousands of low to medium-rise buildings that have failed badly, to the point that many are uninhabitable,” Dwyer said.

“The best that Mr. Shorten can come up with is a four-point plan to ban polyethylene cladding, which has already been done; re-establish the national licencing scheme that previously failed; introduce new penalties; and re-establish the Minister for Industry.”

Dwyer also said the plan fails to assist consumers whose homes have been affected by flammable cladding and other problems.

“Joe and Jill Average have purchased a fully compliant home where they, their children, their parents or their extended family can expect to place their heads on a pillow every night in complete security and safety,” Dwyer said.

“Fiddling by Governments and regulators is of no value. Reliance on one state review out of 65 is only as good as its local terms of reference, but does nothing the improve the national industry, and certainly does not rectify failures delivered to innocent consumers.”

“Joe and Jill Average deserve much more from this industry, its regulators, and its politicians. They all need to take responsibility now to arrest as many future failures as we can by taking urgent action in regard to the safety of buildings before we are faced with a real tragedy.

“To continually sit by and do nothing makes those in power equally complicit.”

“A Royal Commission with a tight timeframe and an effective terms of reference into the national building industry is urgently needed before people start losing lives.”