Senator Carr calls for Australian import ban on combustible cladding

Senator Kim Carr (picture by David Howe)

Senator Kim Carr has reaffirmed Labor’s position on what he calls a “widespread abuse” of combustible materials in the construction industry, calling for a ban on all imports of aluminium cladding to Australia.

The proposal follows the Victorian Government’s announcement that it will ban the majority of cladding considered dangerous from being used on state buildings, including the use of aluminium cladding panels with a polyethylene core of more than 30 per cent.

Speaking at PVC Australia 2018 Conference in Sydney this week, the shadow industry minister appeared to want to go a step further, promising a blanket ban on imports of the flammable material if Labor gained power.

“I know this is a matter of concern to you, in terms of trade policy,” Carr said.

“Frankly, there is no trade agreement we [Labor] would ever sign that would allow us to import dangerous products that would put the lives and safety of the public at risk.

“We can’t say to people that we will ban it all but you can have a loophole. If we do that, I am afraid that, once again, the herds of elephants will walk through.

“The abuse of the material is too widespread, I couldn’t say with any confidence that it is being used properly.”

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He noted “a lack of independent third-party certification” at the centre of the issue, commending the Vinyl Council for pointing to “deficiencies” in Australia’s National Construction Code (NCC), during a Senate inquiry into non-conforming building products, opened in 2016.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull had asked Premiers and Chief Ministers to urgently audit their high-rise buildings in regard to non-conforming combustible cladding, according to an interim report released in September last year.

The report recommended a total ban on the importation, sale and use of polyethylene-core aluminium composite panels “as a matter of urgency”, stating that the committee does not consider there to be “any legitimate use for the material on any building type”.

The Grenfell Tower fire, which killed more than 70 people in London last June, has been at the centre of most of the discussion around flammable cladding used in multi-storey buildings.

In addition to a ban, Carr is also calling for a reform to national licensing for all construction practitioners, where licences to practice can be revoked if a company is proven to be abusing the NCC.

Following his remarks on Wednesday, the senator was pushed on whether Australia should remove a product out of supply chain altogether on the basis of a “regulation issue”, when the material is also used in other areas, such as signage and refrigeration.

“The amount of product used for signage is so small that we believe alternative products are available,” Carr added.