‘Dodgy’ safety certiﬁcates rife on building sites, Senate cladding inquiry told
14 July 2017
A fire such as Grenfell: "would not be possible in Melbourne, or
Australia, in fact, because we have the strongest building codes of any
—Victorian Planning Minister Richard Wynne 2017
The Melbourne Lacrosse condos on fire in 2014
Fraudsters are making fake safety certificates for building products, a Senate inquiry has been told.
The inquiry into non-conforming building products has gathered pace
after the fatal fire at the Grenfell Tower fire in London last month.
That fire, fuelled by flammable cladding, left 80 people dead.
Travis Wacey, national policy research officer at the CFMEU, told the
inquiry in Melbourne on Friday that dodgy certificates pretending
building products comply with local safety rules were rife on
Australian building sites.
"Sometimes these guys [construction workers] can't have confidence in
some of the declarations that are being made about products ... due to
the prevalence of fraudulent behaviour," Mr Wacey said.
Each state and territory in Australia has its own laws and regulators,
with problems often passed between the federal competition regulator,
customs, and state-based fair trading offices.
The Office of the Federal Safety Commissioner, for example, seeks to
improve the safety of companies bidding for large government building
and construction projects.
Labor Senator Kim Carr called the office a "paper tiger" after the
Federal Safety Commissioner, Alan Edwards, told the inquiry it had done
no building audits in the past seven months and was limited by its
small budgets and staff numbers as well as a lack of expertise.
The inquiry also heard that thousands of buildings are potentially a
high fire risk due to non-compliant, highly flammable combustible
"It needs to be looked at, whether they're dangerous or not," Mr Wacey said.
The swiftness of the response in Britain to the Grenfell fire – where
building audits were conducted within weeks – has been contrasted with
the slow response to the November 2014 fire in the Lacrosse building in
The non-fatal Lacrosse building fire was caused by a cigarette butt but fuelled by flammable cladding.
The Lacrosse building is still occupied, and the owners have until July
2018 to remove its cladding – some 44 months after the fire.
Adam Dalrymple, the Metropolitan Fire Brigade's acting executive
director for emergency management, meanwhile, expressed his
disappointment at the "apparent lack of movement by regulators" since
the Lacrosse fire.
"Lacrosse for us was a bit of a wake-up call," he said.
"Since then I believe the regulators have been rubbing the sleep out of
their eyes and with this tragic event everyone has woken up, albeit
some 2½ years later, after we had a similar event in our own backyard.
"Grenfell and Lacrosse aren't isolated incidents: there's been 19 fires
involving cladding worldwide since 2005. The death tolls run from none
"There's been some remedial action in various jurisdictions worldwide
and they range from removal of cladding to changes to evacuation policy
to even changes to fire services doctrine."
After the Lacrosse fires, an audit was conducted of 170 buildings built
in Melbourne's CBD over the past decade. The audit found 51 per cent
had work that was deemed non-compliant and about eight are classified
as "high risk," Mr Dalrymple said.
Furthermore, just one of the MFB's recommendations in its post-incident
analysis had been taken up by the state: extending sprinkler
protections to balconies.
The CFMEU's Mr Wacey said the union had urged its members not to
install products they believed were non-conforming or would be if they
were installed in a certain way.
The inquiry follows warnings that combustible panels similar to those
installed on the Grenfell Tower are widely used across Australia, and
that people could be living in Melbourne apartment towers unaware the
buildings had been built with combustible cladding.
Combustible cladding has been identified on the Travelodge Hotel in
Docklands, and the Trilogi building in Prahran recently warned its 807
residents that all 12 storeys of the luxury apartment block were fitted
with cladding described as "non-compliant" and posing an "unusual fire
Victorian Planning Minister Richard Wynne has said a fire such as
Grenfell "would not be possible in Melbourne, or Australia, in fact,
because we have the strongest building codes of any first-world
But the Andrews government recently announced a taskforce to identify
dangerous cladding in Victoria, oversee any rectification work and make
recommendations about how to improve industry compliance with building
The taskforce is expected to investigate thousands of properties built over the past 12 years and focus on high-rise apartments.
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