Bills: Customs Amendment (Safer Cladding) Bill 2019

10 September 2019

First Reading

Senator Patrick (South Australia): I move:

That the following bill be introduced: A Bill for an Act to amend the Customs Act 1901, and for related purposes. Customs Amendment (SaferCladding)Bill 2019.

Question agreed to.

Senator Patrick: I present the bill and move:

That this bill may proceed without formalities and be now read a first time.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a first time.

Second Reading

Senator PATRICK: I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to table an explanatory memorandum relating to the bill.

Leave granted.

Senator Patrick: I table an explanatory memorandum and seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows—

CUSTOMS AMENDMENT (SAFER CLADDING) BILL 2019

SECOND READING SPEECH

I am pleased to reintroduce the Customs Amendment (Safer Cladding) Bill 2019.

The bill amends the Customs Act 1901 to expressly ban the importation of polyethylene core aluminium composite panels and responds in part to a recommendation made by the Senate Economics References Committee in its inquiry into Non-conforming building products.

The cladding issue is a most serious public safety issue and requires urgent action. The issue was first brought to the public's attention on 25 November 2014 when the Lacrosse building in Docklands Melbourne caught fire and more recently on 4 February 2019 when the Neo200 apartment tower in Spencer Street Melbourne also caught fire. Both of these buildings were clad in the same materials.

The Senate inquiry was trigged by the Lacrosse incident. As Senators may recall, the Lacrosse apartment block in Docklands, Melbourne, had the entire exterior of the building clad in polyethylene core aluminium composite panels. This allowed the fast moving fire to race up several floors and it was only through the responsiveness and quick actions of emergency services that no lives were lost.

Evidence given to the inquiry revealed polyethylene aluminium composite panels are so combustible that in the event of a fire, one kilogram of polyethylene will release the same amount of energy as one and a half litres of burning petrol. They are literally like throwing fuel on a fire.

Very little has been done since the 2014 fire, despite the tragic death of more than 70 people in the London Grenfell building fire in 2017 and a further Australian incident at the Neo200 building in February 2019. The Lacrosse and Grenfell incident informed emergency services to act with extreme haste when faced with the Neo200 fire – again their actions prevented any loss of life.

Not to overshadow the safety of life concerns, the cladding issue has now raised a new problem – building surveyors in Victoria are unable to obtain indemnity insurance. In other states the costs for indemnity insurance has increased putting the industry at risk. This will have huge ramifications for the building industry as building permits and occupancy permits all require the signoff of a qualified surveyor. Without insurance a surveyor is unable to be registered by the relevant Building authority.

The Morrison Government needs to act and ban this dangerous product to ensure that the Australian Building industry is not detrimentally affected and Australian's homes are safe and fit for occupation. We cannot under any circumstances, bear the tragedy that occurred in London. We must prevent any risk of that happening here.

A number of building audits have been conducted around the country by State Governments. An audit conducted by the Victorian government discovered 72 properties are at 'extreme risk of fire' and 500 homes are considered 'highest risk of fire' as a result the Cladding Safety Victoria agency will be established to oversee the reparation work over the next 5 years. However, the Morrison Government has refused to contribute any funds to the $600 million cost.

An audit has been done in my home State of South Australia. Disgracefully, the South Australian government has refused to release the list of buildings and homes in the State that contain highly flammable cladding. Accepting there is no greater interest than preservation of life, the decision to not release the information is unconscionable, immoral and wrong and leaves South Australian home owners unaware of the risk they may face in the event of their home catching fire – this will expose State Government to claims of liability.

In light of the Grenfell Tower tragedy, there cannot be legitimate use of polyethylene core aluminium composite panels on any building type. As the committee found there are safe non-flammable and fire retardant alternatives currently available there is no place for polyethylene core aluminium composite panels in the Australian market.

Until the Australian Border Force and suppliers of Aluminium Composite Material are able to determine whether an imported building product will be used in a compliant manner, a ban on importation is necessary to prevent any disasters such as the Grenfell Tower tragedy occurring in Australia.

This issue is of continued concern for all Australian's, not only those who live in high rise apartments but in all types of dwellings. This bill will protect all future Australian home purchasers and give them peace of mind and as such I urge all of my colleagues in the Senate to put safety first and support the bill.

I commend the bill to the Senate.

Senator Patrick: I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.

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