Property Australia

Compliance, safety and sustainability on building ministers' radar

PROPERTY AUSTRALIA February 12, 2019

Australian building ministers agreed to action on issues ranging from building safety and compliance through to a zero energy and carbon building pathway at their meeting in Hobart last Friday.

Following the meeting, the ministers published a communique which “reaffirmed their commitment” to a joint response to recommendations outlined in the 2018 Building Confidence report into building compliance and enforcement, which is supported by the property industry.

The Property Council attended the Hobart meeting along with other industry representatives  and requested more information on a detailed work plan which is yet to be provided, as well as urged all state and territory governments to align on consistent approaches.

Ministers also agreed to strengthen enforcement around the use of Aluminium Composite Panels (ACPs) through a national ban on the unsafe use of combustible ACPs in new construction.

This would be subject to a cost/benefit analysis, and would assess supply chain and building industry impacts, as well as “unintended consequences”. Ministers will consider the issue again at their next meeting in July.

According to Property Council chief executive Ken Morrison, the proposed ACP ban for future construction is a “prudent move” to further strengthen the fire safety of buildings and public confidence, although the detail will be important.

“Recent changes to the National Construction Code effectively prohibit the use of flammable external cladding on high rise buildings, but this ban should give the public more confidence in our buildings,” Morrison explains.

“A well-designed, nationally consistent approach is crucial in meeting these objectives,” Morrison says, adding that more detail is required to understand how the proposed ban interacts with recent changes to the National Construction Code and state-level bans. 

“Many of our members have already taken action to audit, and where required, improve building safety.”

Morrison notes that existing buildings have cladding products which can safely remain in place, supported by good building and fire management systems.

“We will continue to work very closely with governments on implementation to ensure we meet community expectations around building safety without unnecessarily adding to the cost or complexity of building projects,” Morrison says.

The ministerial forum also progressed its work on the COAG Energy Council’s much-anticipated commitment to a trajectory for low energy buildings.

The Australian Sustainable Built Environment Council, of which the Property Council is an active member, has advocated increases to energy efficiency provisions in the National Construction Code, with its recent Build to Perform report outlining a clear pathway to “zero carbon ready buildings”.

“Almost all buildings built today will still be operating in 2050, at a time when Australia will need to be at or near net zero emissions,” says ASBEC executive director Suzanne Toumbourou.

“The National Construction Code sets minimum standards for all new Australian buildings, so it is the best place to start to improve building energy performance.

“By strengthening the National Construction Code, we can ensure new buildings are ‘zero carbon ready’ to plug into a net zero emissions economy by 2050.”

The BMF has asked the Australian Building Codes Board to provide a “holistic view” of current energy efficiency provisions in the National Construction Code and potential regulatory impacts in different jurisdictions, as well as advice on delivery in collaboration with industry.

The “staged approach” to implementation is supported by industry.

“It is great to see governments joining industry to support more energy efficient, sustainable buildings as a way to cut costs for consumers and businesses, reduce Australia’s overall carbon emissions, and create healthier, better spaces in which to live and work,” says Jonathan Cartledge, head of public affairs and membership at the Green Building Council of Australia.

ASBEC’s modelling has found proposed changes to the 2022 Code could generate a net benefit of $25 billion in the commercial buildings sector by 2050.