Improving information sharing between various levels of government is crucial if Australia is to manage risks associated with non-conforming products, a leader in the construction industry says.

Housing Industry Association senior executive director building, development and environment Kristin Brookfield said recommendations contained in a discussion paper released in February were crucial in order for any non-conforming products to be eradicated from the building system. The recommendations called for mechanisms to be developed to enable state and territory’s to provide evidence to the Commonwealth about suspected non-conforming products in order for the Commonwealth to undertake further action.

“We are very supportive of the concept of sharing information, both between states and from state and federal and federal to state,” Brookfield said.

According to Brookfield, it was largely this kind of sharing which enabled a national recall of deadly Infinity and Olsent-branded electrical cables, which the ACCC believes exists in up to 22,000 homes and businesses around the country and which the regulator says has the potential to lead to electrical shock or fire due to an insulation coating which has been found to degrade prematurely.

She says understanding of the need for a national recall grew after New South Wales shared information about the faulty products with other states and with the federal government.

In addition, Brookfield also says the nation needs a clearer definition of what are considered to be ‘consumer products’ within the building industry.

This matters because under Australian consumer law, both federal and state authorities have powers and responsibilities with regard to matters such as imposing safety standards or conducting recalls for products which are considered to be ‘consumer products’ and thus subject to the consumer protection regime.

The recall of the cables, for example, is believed to have been delayed because of uncertainty over whether or not these qualified as consumer products and were thus subject to recalls.

Brookfield’s comments follow the closing date for submissions to the national Building Minster’s Forum’s discussion paper on strategies to address the risk associated with non-conforming products.

The paper recommended that the Forum endorse the following:

  • Upgrading of building regulatory frameworks to address deficiencies
  • Improvement of processes for addressing NCPs by, for instance, establishing a national forum of building regulators, improving collaboration between building and consumer law regulators and considering the establishment of a one-stop-shop national website to provide a single pint of information for consumers and building product supply chain participants
  • That mechanisms be put in place to ensure that information about non-conforming products is shared between state and federal regulators
  • That the Working Group of Senior Officers and the Australian Building Codes Board work with Standards Australia to initiate a review of Australian Standards related to high risk building products referenced under the National Construction Code, with a view to assessing the costs and benefits of mandating third party certification and establishing a national register for these products
  • Research be encouraged to improve the evidence base relating to NCPs
  • Recognition be given regarding the importance of industry led initiatives such as third-party certification schemes in identifying evidence of non-conforming products.

Brookfield says the level of government attention now focused on the problem is encouraging:.

“The over-arching point for us is that governments are paying attention to the issue,” she said. “There’s a long way to go before we have solved the problem.”