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Federal Minister reflects on the nation’s confidence in the building industry

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The following article published by the Sydney Morning Herald details the federal minister’s response to the all-time low confidence in the nation’s building industry.



Confidence in the nation’s building sector has fallen so low that it must be “rebuilt”, the Morrison government minister with responsibility for construction says.

“There is solidarity that what we need to do is rebuild confidence in Australia’s building and construction sector,” federal Industry Minister Karen Andrews said, after a meeting of Australian building ministers in Sydney on Thursday.

The ministers also agreed to fund a new taskforce to pursue nationally consistent building standards, amid the flammable cladding crisis plaguing Australia’s construction industry.

Premier Daniel Andrews this week announced a $600 million fund to repair private buildings with flammable cladding.

The state asked the federal government to pay half, but Ms Andrews on Thursday reiterated Treasurer Josh Frydenberg’s refusal earlier in the week, saying cladding was a state issue.

And she rejected questioning from reporters on whether Canberra was simply dumping the task of removing flammable cladding on states, despite both federal and state laws having played a role in creating the problem.

“The federal government has never washed its hands of these issues,” she said. “But clearly it is up to the states and territories, they have responsibility for building and construction.”

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The 2014 cladding fire at Dockland's Lacrosse tower.
The 2014 cladding fire at Dockland’s Lacrosse tower.CREDIT:MFB

Victorian Planning Minister Richard Wynne was at Thursday’s meeting and said his government was “not happy” with Canberra’s refusal to help pay for repairs to hundreds of faulty private buildings.

Victoria would now implement a building levy over the five years that Mr Wynne said would “collect in the order of $300 million”, along with $300 million the government has already committed to spending. It will help fix around 500 of the state’s most dangerous buildings with flammable cladding.

The meeting resulted in ministers agreeing that the Australian Building Codes Board – the body that sets the National Construction Code, which helps guide builders – would be expanded and given more resources.

It would also help the states and Canberra implement the recommendations of a 2018 building industry report by experts Peter Shergold and Bronwyn Weir.

The meeting of building ministers was also joined by insurance industry representatives. Mr Wynne said that reaching agreement with the insurance sector about covering the professional indemnity of building surveyors was “very critical for us”.

Insurers have largely withdrawn from issuing new professional indemnity insurance policies for surveyors who work on buildings covered in flammable cladding, and Mr Wynne said this was a serious problem.

The funding made available by his government to repair private buildings could only be spent if there were building surveyors able to sign off on works.

“We are moving towards rectification works on private buildings in the next couple of months, and as we currently stand building surveyors will not be able to be engaged to certify those buildings because currently they have no professional indemnity insurance,” Mr Wynne said.

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Industry Minister Karen Andrews with Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
Industry Minister Karen Andrews with Prime Minister Scott Morrison.CREDIT:ALEX ELLINGHAUSEN

Thousands of high-rise buildings around Australia are covered in combustible cladding that needs to be replaced, while the industry is also dealing with the fallout from a range of other defective and faulty buildings such as Sydney’s Opal Tower.

The meeting of ministers comes after Australia’s five largest industry groups demanded urgent action on the nation’s “patchy and inconsistent” building rules.

“Industry is concerned that the lack of consistent or co-ordinated action by governments…not only threatens many thousands of on-site jobs but also undermines public confidence in the industry as a whole,” said Ai Group chief executive Innes Willox.

Mr Willox said construction was Australia’s fourth-largest industry, and it was crucial to restore public confidence in it.

The construction industry has called for better enforcement of rules so that cowboy operators are held to account.

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