Governments failed to act on flammable cladding warnings


By Leith van Onselen

The AFR’s Michael Bleby has done a terrific job (here and here) examining how Australia’s government’s failed to act on warnings over flammable cladding.

According to fire engineer Jonathan Barnett, Canadian researchers first raised concerns about combustible cladding in a report published in 1990, whereas testing by the CSIRO in 1995 found that such cladding was a fire risk, but no formal reports on the issue were published in Australia until five years later.

Meanwhile, state and territory building regulators were made aware of fire authorities’ concerns about the use of combustible cladding in 2010, as was the Australian Building Code Board. However, in the case of Victorian regulators, they did not issue any warning about the use of combustible cladding until June 2015, more than six months after the fire in the Lacrosse building in Melbourne.

Now, building industry figures are arguing that if our governments were aware of the dangers of flammable cladding, then it is reasonable to expect them to have to help pay the cost of its removal and rectification:


“There’s got to be culpability somewhere,” said Mr Chandler, the veteran builder of Parliament House in Canberra.

Governments could hold others to account or fund remediation themselves but would likely have to at least partially fund rectification, said Dame Judith Hackitt, who headed the UK inquiry into the 2017 Grenfell Tower tragedy in which 72 people died, during a visit to Melbourne last week.

“Government will have to provide some sort of support, undoubtedly,” Dame Judith said.

Meanwhile, poor building standards have been thrust further into the spotlight, with a Victorian builder suspended over sub-standard Melbourne developments. From The ABC:

A commercial builder has been suspended by the Victorian Building Authority (VBA) over a string of substandard housing developments in Melbourne’s suburbs, including one with dangerous cladding…

The VBA said “the decision to suspend was taken in the interests of the public”.

“Mr Farag is the builder named on the permit for six buildings in the south-east of Melbourne which have been the subject of significant regulatory action through the issue of Emergency Orders, or Building Notices, or both,” the VBA said.

Mr Farag has five buildings still under construction and he will be forced to find another builder to take over…

Residents at one apartment block built by Mr Farag said they had been forced to pay tens of thousands of dollars to fix defects which included leaking pipes and cracks in walls.

Inside some apartments, mould and even mushrooms had grown because of poor drainage and constantly leaking pipes.


17 building site in Gungahlin, Canberra, have also been ordered to stop work after defects were discovered by building inspectors. From The Canberra Times:

Building inspectors have stopped work on 17 non-compliant residential building sites in Gungahlin this week, citing exposed steel reinforcement in concrete, poorly installed window flashings and timber framing that left the structural integrity of buildings at risk.

The unusual crackdown has seen Access Canberra issue 12 building companies with notices over the defects.

The whole development system in Australia is clearly rotten, aided and abetted by the federal government’s mass immigration policy, which necessarily requires lots of homes to be built hastily, thus compromising quality.


A royal commission into building regulations and standards, as well as the development industry, is desperately needed. This would shine a spot light on the systemic issues, finger those responsible, and help prevent a reoccurrence in the future.

Even then, it’s too little too late given the proliferation of poorly built, flammable slums that have mushroomed across our major cities to house Australia’s population ponzi.

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About the author
Leith van Onselen is Chief Economist at the MB Fund and MB Super. He is also a co-founder of MacroBusiness. Leith has previously worked at the Australian Treasury, Victorian Treasury and Goldman Sachs.