Flammable cladding needs urgent attention but the NSW government hasn't recognised the seriousness of the situation, with only a small portion of at-risk buildings made safe, according to a parliamentary inquiry.
A NSW upper house committee on Thursday released its report into the regulation of building standards and disputes, following high-profile building defect issues in NSW and building fires involving flammable cladding interstate and overseas.
Most notable was London’s catastrophic Grenfell Tower fire in 2017 which claimed 72 lives.
“Flammable cladding has been responsible for fires spreading quickly through a number of buildings around the world and for loss of homes and lives,” the report states.
“It is only a matter of time before NSW experiences something similar.
“It should not take a building fire here for the NSW government to act comprehensively to address this problem.”
The report said it was clear only a small minority of buildings with dangerous cladding had been made safe – despite the state government’s 10-point plan for fire safety.
However, committee members and coalition MPs Trevor Khan and Natalie Ward said they found some of the recommendations “counterproductive and likely to delay and frustrate reforms that have already commenced”.
They said it was a time for “thoughtful and constructive steps” towards building confidence in the industry, rather than “political point-scoring and grandstanding through the presentation of a potpourri of thought bubbles and empty gestures”.
The committee made 22 recommendations regarding cladding, the powers of NSW’s new building commissioner, the government’s building reform bill and the certification system.
The report said the commissioner had given advice on flammable cladding to the state government some time ago but the committee couldn’t obtain that advice as it remained before cabinet.
It was recommended the government release and act immediately on the advice or explain why it prefers an alternative approach.
“At no point has the NSW government been able to explain what this advice is, why it has not yet been agreed to or dismissed, or when that might occur,” the report said.
“The committee regards this delay on this important public safety matter as inexplicable and inexcusable.”
Other recommendations included the provision of substantial state government funding -proportionate to Victoria’s $600 million package – to fix buildings affected by flammable cladding.
Committee chair and Greens MP David Shoebridge said the safety and integrity of the state’s construction industry had never been more important.
“With all levels of government looking to deliver a sustained increase in construction activity during the COVID-19 pandemic, it is essential that the parliament acts now to deliver critical and long-delayed reforms,” Mr Shoebridge wrote in the report.
But NSW Better Regulation Minister Kevin Anderson was critical of the recommendations, saying the government had taken strong action to lift standards and its planned reforms would improve transparency, accountability and quality.
“Instead of supporting that reform package and waiting for it to be implemented, the committee wants to re-start the process of reform,” the minister said.
“This is not in the interests of either consumers or the construction industry.”
The state government in 2017 announced its 10-point plan for fire safety, including the establishment of a whole-of-government flammable cladding task force.
The task force identifies buildings with potentially flammable cladding, and has so far audited 185,000 building records and inspected 4127 buildings and cleared 3694, with 433 under review, assessment or remediation.