TWO years on from the Grenfell Tower inferno in London and the Queensland Government says global aftershocks are pushing the state’s building industry into an insurance crisis.
To protect the community and stabilise the building industry, the state is considering ending the use of provisions that have allowed combustible cladding on buildings over three storeys.
Minister for Housing and Public Works Mick de Brenni has called an urgent extraordinary meeting of his Ministerial Construction Council (MCC) to discuss a range of measures to stop construction works in Queensland from grinding to a halt.
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“The Queensland building and construction industry employs 230,000 Queenslanders and unrectified combustible cladding poses a risk to tradies and Queenslanders where they live and work,” Mr de Brenni said.
“For too long “creative solutions”, including performance solutions, that allow combustible cladding to be installed on high-rise buildings have been permeating the industry and the State’s built environment.
“Due to the Morrison Government’s inaction we’ve got to the point where combustible cladding is causing insurance companies to exit the market and crank up their charges to certifiers.”
Mr de Brenni said his department had received reports of some insurance premiums increasing by thousands of dollars, some by up to 226 per cent more than the year before.
“Our certifiers keep the building industry ticking and the Palaszczuk Government will not see Queenslanders out of work due to federal inaction on this issue,” Mr de Brenni said.
“The era of “bendable rules” must finish. Complacency and the misuse of performance-based solutions has seen buildings in Australia clad in solid petrol.
“I think Queenslanders would want us to simply outlaw that practice if it will remove the risk of a cladding disaster and stabilise our vital building industry.”
Banning performance solutions has already been introduced by the West Australian government, and local industry reports the approach is working well.
“Queensland may join WA in departing from key elements of the Canberra-developed building code,” Mr de Brenni said.
“The National Construction Code was a good idea but has become a vehicle for reckless industry practises and deregulation by stealth.
“It’s all very well for the Federal Government to claim a failing by the states but when the rule book is so loose and open to interpretation, then the Commonwealth must tighten those rules or realise the state governments will have to deal with the unacceptable ambiguities.
“Our priority has to be about people, profits have taken centre stage in this sector for too long.
“It’s just as important that we support Queensland’s $45 billion building and construction industry and keep it operating sustainably and safely and this means keeping certifiers in business.”
Mr de Brenni said the insurance crisis for certifiers has been triggered by the insurance industry reacting to the combustible cladding scandal.
“The Federal Government has failed to ban the importation of dodgy combustible cladding despite the risks it presents, so the State Government will be ensuring the Queensland community is protected,” he said.
“Some industry groups have been calling for the government to allow certifiers to approve buildings without adequate professional indemnity insurance.
“If this means allowing insurance policy with exclusions then the only way I think this would be satisfactory to the public would be if we removed the ability to use high-risk products on high-rise buildings.
“This means banning the use of performance solutions or alternative methods of compliance to the law.”
A raft of recommendations from an independent PricewaterhouseCoopers report into the insurance issue will be considered at the MCC meeting on Tuesday, along with other measures including:
- Changing licensing rules for certifiers to allow them to practice with exclusion in their mandatory profession indemnity insurance;
- the creation of a national professional standards body for certifiers, much like that which exists for lawyers, solicitors, architects, and engineers;
- expediting a permanent labelling system for Aluminium Composite Panels in Australia to prevent substitution; and,
- establishing a model to indemnify certifiers who are involved in combustible cladding rectification or remediation work on buildings.