The long-delayed senate probe into non-conforming building products demonstrates why strata owners should not sit back and wait for leadership from government, Paul Morton, CEO of Lannock Strata Finance, said during the Strata Fire Safety Forum held on August 31.
The forum presented a panel of experts from the legal, insurance, real estate, engineering, finance, and strata management fields, and aimed to “[fill] the information vacuum around unsafe aluminium cladding on thousands of buildings across Australia.”
“It has taken 806 days and countless sittings and hearings for this committee to table a report that expresses concern at the ‘long time lag between government responses to the Lacrosse fire in 2014’,” Morton said. “It took only minutes for fire to tear up the side of the Lacrosse building in Melbourne and the Grenfell Tower, fuelled by the material that is on buildings right across Australia.”
Morton, who also served as convenor of the Strata Fire Safety Forum, emphasised that the threat to public safety posed by non-conforming building products in thousands of residential, commercial, and public buildings is “real, serious and urgent”.
“However, if this is the government’s idea of an urgent response, we can all be thankful that they are not out there fighting the fires that may result from the widespread use of combustible cladding that has occurred due to a breakdown in regulatory systems and checks.”
The committee raised a crucial point in relation to the statutory duty of care owed to the owners and residents of apartments.
“The committee acknowledged that there is an urgent duty of care required to cover the discovery of non-compliant or non-conforming building products but the recommendation offers nothing concrete for those people who are being left to pick up the tab for the multitude of failures that have been exposed over the course of this inquiry.”
Morton said the experts had revealed failures at every level of the supply chain, “from importation to certification, regulation and outright fraud”.
“The catastrophe of the Grenfell Tower fire has shocked governments across the world into action but in Australia, all the warnings were already there three years ago after Melbourne’s Lacrosse fire,” Morton said. “The senate has recommended a ban on all composite aluminium cladding but that doesn’t resolve the issue of what is to be done about buildings that have been constructed using the material.”
Morton said the committee’s recommendation that state and territory governments work together would not resolve the urgent issues being faced by strata owners.
“Clearly, owners’ corporations and their strata managers cannot wait for government. If they have aluminium cladding on their building, testing is important but probably not enough. It will take a full fire safety report for owners to get a clear picture of the totality of their fire protection systems and an idea of what their next steps must be.”