Elite AgentOpinion

Time for swift action on building products and safety: Andrew Cocks

There’s an important lesson to be learned from the agreement reached between the South Australian Government and Tesla to build the world’s largest lithium-ion battery, and it’s got nothing to do with climate change, sustainability or energy security.

It’s about the speed at which it has progressed from an idea on Twitter to an actual signed agreement with completion date. Elon Musk made his 100-day delivery boast in March this year, contracts were signed last Friday and the battery will be built before Christmas.

Our politics and beleaguered bureaucracy have come to such an impasse that there is no longer any real expectation that action will follow talk. Granted that South Australia was staring down the barrel of a potential energy crisis this summer, but let’s just contrast the swiftness of their response with the Federal Government’s approach to dealing with another crisis that imperils both lives and a cornerstone of our economy – construction and real estate.

Canberra’s fiddling is all the more reprehensible given what we now know about the dangers of non-conforming and non-complying building products since the Grenfell tower fire in London. Yet we had our own wake-up call in November 2014 when fire ripped through Melbourne’s Lacrosse building, prompting the Senate, in June 2015, to instigate an inquiry into non-conforming building products.

Since then Australia has experienced an unprecedented construction boom with high-rise towers changing the face of our urban landscape and billions of dollars invested in new homes in the sky. It would have been reassuring to think that our government considered it a priority to ensure there was a legislative framework that guaranteed the safety of these buildings.

Here’s an extract from the Government’s own website; you can judge for yourself the urgency they have brought to the issue.

  • On 23 June 2015, the Senate referred an inquiry into non-conforming building products to the Senate Economics References Committee for inquiry and report by 12 October 2015. On 15 September 2015, the Senate granted an extension to the committee to report by 3 December 2015. On 23 November 2015, the committee was granted a further extension to report by 16 March 2016. On 15 March 2016, the Senate granted the committee an extension to report by 10 May 2016.  
  • On 4 May 2016, the Senate granted the committee an extension to report by 30 September 2016.  
  • On 11 October 2016, the Senate agreed to the committee’s recommendation that this inquiry be re-adopted in the 45th Parliament. The committee is to report by 25 May 2017.
  • On 30 March 2017, the Senate granted an extension to the committee to report by 31 August 2017 for the interim report on the illegal importation of products containing asbestos, and 31 October 2017 for the final report.

Source – http://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate/Economics/Non-conforming45th

Fair Trading NSW has recently added a section on non-conforming building products to its website, outlining those whose responsibility it is to ensure compliance, including homeowners and consumers. Apartment owners are largely powerless in the supply chain, but when things go wrong they are left picking up the bill if a builder or developer has wittingly or unwittingly used non-conforming or non-complying products.

As more light is shone on the issue, the focus has broadened to include the import and use of non-conforming glazing, piping and cement sheeting containing asbestos. And you can be confident that list will get longer still.

While the real estate industry may not be at the frontline in dealing with matters of product safety and construction, it is very much involved over the lifecycle of all types of housing and office buildings. It is real estate agents who must advocate on behalf of vendors, assuring buyers that the asset they are acquiring is safe and will be a stepping stone to wealth, not a millstone requiring rectification and repair. It is real estate agents who install tenants in buildings that they must trust have been built to be safe.

So surely it’s time for governments to advance from talking and thinking to actually doing something.

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