Significance

The inferno that engulfed the Grenfell Tower in west London on 14 June 2017 and tragically claimed at least 79 lives has once again brought the issue of cheap, imported and highly flammable cladding to the forefront. Non-conforming cladding was found to be a significant factor in high-rise fires here in Australia (most notably the fire in Melbourne's Lacrosse Tower in 2014).

Minister for Housing and Public Works Mick de Brenni hopes that his proposed Building and Construction Legislation (Non-conforming Building Products Chain of Responsibility and Other Matters) Amendment Bill 2017 (Qld) (Bill), which will increase accountability and broaden the powers of the Queensland Building and Construction Commission (QBCC), might prevent such an incident occurring in Queensland.

Overview

The Bill amends the Queensland Building and Construction Commission Act 1991 (Qld) and will establish a chain of responsibility, placing duties on supply chain participants at all stages to ensure that building products used in Queensland are safe and fit for purpose.

Key definitions A person will fall within the chain of responsibility if they design, manufacture, import or supply a building product and know, or are reasonably expected to know, the product will or is likely to be associated with a building, as well as if they install the building product into the building in connection with relevant work.

Non-conforming building products are building products that are not safe for use, or that do not comply with relevant regulatory provisions, or that are not capable of being used to the standard represented by the person responsible for the product.

Key provisions

The Bill proposes a primary duty on each person in the supply chain to ensure, insofar as reasonably practicable, that a product is not a non-conforming building product. The Bill also proposes additional duties to be imposed upon certain persons to ensure that information for a product, such as its suitability, travels with the product.

The Bill will create a number of offences, such as where a person in the chain of responsibility breaches a duty or has reasonable suspicion or knowledge that a building product is non-conforming for an intended use and does not give notice to the QBCC.

Executive officers will need to exercise `due diligence' (including taking reasonable steps to acquire, and keep up to date, knowledge of matters about the safe use of building products) to ensure that their company complies with the duties.

The Bill will establish a Building Products Advisory Committee and allow the Minister for Housing and Public Works to issue a warning statement about a product and issue a recall order where deemed necessary. It will also significantly broaden the QBCC's powers of entry.

Next steps

To date, a number of States and Territories have acknowledged that they have a problem with noncompliant cladding (cladding that does not comply with the Building Code). In the review that followed the Lacrosse fire, the Victorian Building Authority found that, of 170 buildings audited, 51 percent had non-compliant external cladding. The NSW Department of Planning & Environment is allegedly concerned that up to 2,500 buildings in the Greater Sydney area may contain non-compliant cladding.

The Minister for Housing and Public Works Mick de Brenni believes the Bill will establish a model for other jurisdictions looking to improve their own legislative frameworks around non-conforming building products. Complementary measures to support jurisdictional legislative amendments, including the establishment of a national building regulators forum to provide cross-jurisdictional advice about the identification and eradication of non-conforming building products, are being considered. The Bill has been referred to the Public Works and Utilities Committee of the Queensland Parliament for inquiry and report by 7 August 2017.