Building Amendment (Registration Of Building Trades And Other Matters) Bill 2018 Second Reading

22 Aug 2018

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I rise to speak on the Building Amendment (Registration of Building Trades and Other Matters) Bill 2018. This bill does a range of things. It sets out a framework that covers regulations for the building industry and amends some powers of the Minister for Planning and the planning process. Within the building industry, it is targeted at improving safety and compliance by prescribing requisite skills and experience for particular types of building works. It covers some residential swimming pool regulation, work that I understand has come out of the coroner’s recommendations after toddler pool deaths, as well as changes for surveyors and local council registers.

I will focus on the issue of combustible cladding on buildings, which of course has been an absolute fiasco not just here in Melbourne but also worldwide. This has been a significant and ongoing problem, particularly I might add in the Prahran electorate. We have had a number of tenants and a number of owners come and visit me. I have gone out to their homes and discussed some of the real issues that they have had since their cladding has been found to be non-compliant. This has been a serious problem and has been a failure of government and a failure of regulation. I would point to it going way back when building surveyors were privatised and it was no longer mandated that it was solely a function of local governments. It was essentially privatised, and really it is a symptom of privatisation. When you privatise what should be an essential public service, you see standards drop and we now have a crisis on our hands in terms of combustible cladding on many buildings.

This bill seeks to address that issue, giving the Minister for Planning the authority to ban high-risk cladding products. It amends the Local Government Act 1989 to provide low-cost financing options for owners corporations or individuals who want to or need to undertake cladding works through cladding rectification agreements. I understand these are long-term, low-interest loans paid through a council. I think it is a good step. It certainly addresses the matter by banning this material on new builds and allowing for owners and owners corporations to address these materials and have improvements made to their buildings. But we do think the response to the cladding issue should go further, more than just a long-term loan. We believe the government should have actually started a fund to address these issues and pay for the work up-front. This has been a failure of government. It has been a failure of regulation and we think the responsibility should lie with the government and not be lumped on home owners.

I have spoken with home owners, and there is a significant cost involved in rectifying some of these issues — tens of thousands of dollars — to make their homes safe. If they do not, not only do they continue to live in danger, they potentially face eviction should they be given a non-compliant notice. There are huge outlays. If you are looking to hold someone else responsible through legal means, it is very complex and it is very difficult. Individuals simply do not have the capacity to do so. That should sit with the state. That is why the Greens called for a cladding safety fund to be established, which would cover the up-front costs of remediation and then it would be the government that would seek to recoup those costs from those responsible.

People have bought their homes in good faith. They have invested in homes and apartments. People are renting, living in places in good faith only to find that their homes are clad with flammable material. The responsibility for that should not lie with the individual. This has been a systemic failure and the responsibility should lie with government. We saw the fire in the Grenfell Tower in London — granted, Grenfell is a very extreme case; it not only had flammable cladding but I think it had no other fire prevention systems in it — and in the Lacrosse building in Melbourne. These are really significant issues and have caused governments here in Victoria and of course around the world to look at addressing these issues. Certainly the Greens will be supporting this legislation to help make buildings safer. But we believe this has been a systemic failure and the cost should be borne by the government, not by individuals.

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