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Cladding bill tabled in Senate as fake “fire resistant” imports found in Victoria

Centre Alliance Senator Rex Patrick has reintroduced a bill into the Senate that would ban the importation of all flammable cladding into Australia. The move - opposed by the federal government and the Australian Sign & Graphics Association (ASGA) - comes days after the discovery in Victoria of counterfeit flammable cladding - said to be imported from China - with stickers attached falsely declaring it to be fire resistant.

rex patrick senate

Senator Rex Patrick introduces his 'safer cladding' amendment in the Senate on Tuesday

Senator Patrick’s private member’s bill seeks to revise the Customs Act 1901 by inserting a new amendment that bans imports of all polyethylene core aluminium composite panels:

Customs Act 1901

1  After section 51A

Insert:

51B   Importation of polyethylene core aluminium composite panels

             (1)  The importation into Australia of polyethylene core aluminium composite panels is prohibited.

             (2)  Polyethylene core aluminium composite panels are taken to be prohibited imports under the  Customs (Prohibited Imports) Regulations 1956.

Senator Patrick said that while he recognised flammable cladding could be used safely in signage, “in the context of failed policy across the states, the costs to businesses is worth it.”

A spokesperson for the Senator’s office in Canberra told Wide Format Online that the bill, introduced on Tuesday, could now go to the Selection of Bills Committee but it would be up to the government as to “when it gets put on the table.

“One option is to refer it to a committee but Centre Alliance would need to talk to the other parties before we do. The other option would be that it gets debated during private members time."

In a statement on Wednesday afternoon, Amelia McMahon, Media and Policy Adviser for Rex Patrick, said: “Centre Alliance is giving all parties the opportunity to examine the bill before we commence discussions over the next steps.”

The government has slammed the bill, with Industry Minister Karen Andrews telling The Australian: “This is nothing more than a populist move which will not address the issues around the non-compliant use of aluminium composite panels. The National Construction Code has always restricted the use of combustible cladding in high rise buildings, so it’s clearly a symptom of noncompliance and a lack of enforcement from the states and territories.

“An import ban would have unintended consequences for Australian small businesses that use these panels for legitimate and safe purposes, such as signage, wrapping ATMs, caravan manufacturing, road barriers and interior design," she said.

mick harrold asgaASGA Victoria’s Mick Harrold (pictured right) told The Australian that sign businesses could be forced to use more flammable products like timber if panel imports are banned.

“Our industry is doing the right thing and shouldn’t be punished by this legislation, which is a poorly conceived blunt instrument," he said.

Meanwhile, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews called on the building industry to be on the lookout for counterfeit flammable cladding with fake stickers declaring it to be fire resistant.

The falsely-labelled cladding has been found in Victoria over the past week, according a report in the Sun Herald newspaper. 

“The flammable cladding is likely to have been manufactured in China and imported into Australia untested and undetected,” said the report. “The Victorian Building Authority is understood to be aware of reports of counterfeiting or substitution, where inferior, flammable cladding was used instead of better quality and safer panels.”

Rebecca Casson, CEO of Master Builders Association of Victoria (MBAV), said there were reports of counterfeit cladding being imported into Australia as well as other countries. She called on the federal government to audit and test products being imported.  

“Master Builders Victoria is rightly alarmed by reports of this unsafe material, jeopardising the integrity and safety of work that is delivered,” MBAV said in a tweet. “Members of Master Builders Victoria can contact our team to assist with any enquiries. 

daniel andrewsPremier Andrews (pictured right) told The Age that lives could be lost unless state and federal governments work together to resolve the cladding crisis.

“No one likes putting a levy on, no one likes having to invest so much taxpayers’ money,” he said. “But this is a very real issue and if ignored, if a blame game was to erupt … my fear is that there would be deadly outcomes from it.”

Safety concerns over combustible cladding in Victoria surfaced in 2014 when external wall cladding at the Lacrosse building in Docklands burst into flames after a burning cigarette was left unattended.  A Court ordered a total of $5.7 million in damages to be paid to owners over the Lacrosse building fire.

The Andrews government has committed $600 million to remove combustible material used on about 500 buildings across the state.

The issue of ACM cladding used in signage and display has caused widespread concern in the signage industry. A recent forum at PrintEx in Sydney heard that sign businesses need to protect themselves by asking suppliers for certification of all materials they use.