Published: 29 May 2015
The CFMEU has written to every state and territory government calling for urgent audits to be undertaken on the use of a dangerous imported aluminium cladding product.
The product was used to cover the external walls of the Lacrosse Apartments Complex at Docklands in Melbourne, which caught alight last year. The cladding proved highly combustible, resulting in the rapid spread of fire. Four hundred people were evacuated from the building and were lucky to escape serious harm.
Experts believe the product has been used extensively in buildings throughout the nation.
The union has written to each Premier and Chief Minister asking them to conduct an audit of the use of the product, compelling building surveyors, builders, architects and designers to outline where the use of the product has occurred in their State or Territory.
CFMEU National Secretary Michael O’Connor said a comprehensive, national audit was the only way of knowing how widespread the use of the material was in Australian construction.
“Because of completely inadequate enforcement of Australian standards on imported building products, these unsafe products have flooded the Australian market, putting lives at risk and hurting Australian builders and manufacturers,” Mr O’Connor said.
“Imported products that supposedly comply with Australian standards, and are often labeled or stamped as such, are clearly falling short when put to the test - a situation highlighted by the Lacrosse Complex fire.
“We know that builders are trying to do the right thing, but they have no way of knowing if products that appear to comply to Australian standards are actually safe or not.
“The enforcement and compliance regime is a complete mess. Multiple state and federal agencies play sometimes conflicting roles when it comes to ensuring imported goods do not cause death, injury or illness to Australian workers and consumers.
“The ACCC, State and Territory building authorities, offices of Fair Trading, and the Quarantine and Customs Services all have various responsibilities - yet there is no effective enforcement of Australian standards on imported products.
“It’s a spectacular regulatory failure and a disaster waiting to happen. Urgent action is now required by all levels of government,” he said.
The union said unless the Federal Government acted, the China Free Trade Agreement would make matters worse.
The likely inclusion of chapters in the China Free Trade Agreement on ‘Investor rights’ and so called ‘Technical Barriers to Trade’ will limit Australia’s ability to adequately enforce compliance with Australian safety standards on imported goods from China.
“The system of quality control for Chinese products needs to be completely overhauled and strengthened, but the China FTA will dramatically limit our ability to do this.
“The Federal Government has sat on its hands while unsafe imports from China flood the Australian market – and you can only conclude that its lack of action in response to the genuine concern of workers, consumers and the public is motivated by a desire to get their China FTA up, whatever the costs.”
The safety failure of imported building products is not unique to the cladding product, with previous cases of sub-standard and failing glass products, wood products (formply), and electrical cable being used in Australian construction - with costly and disastrous consequences.