Page 3988 - Week 11 - Wednesday, 20 September 2017

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I understand that some of the footage we have seen of combustibility tests of panels and building fires could look alarming. But, like many materials, the use of such panels where they are compliant does not pose a danger to the building occupants or the public. For instance, using PE panels to make a sign or a shed is not the same as using PE panels to line the walls of a high-rise building. There are different risks.

Building standards are based on these different levels of risk. Compliant buildings provide minimal risk to occupants in a building fire and allow them to safely evacuate the building. In my previous example, evacuating a shed is relatively simple for occupants as there are no higher storeys for the fire to spread to. Evacuating a high-rise building is more difficult and takes longer. That is why the larger and more complex a building is, or the more difficult a building would be to evacuate in those circumstances, the greater is the fire protection the building requires. It is also why individual products, such as panels, are not banned under the national construction code.

To give another example of how this works, consider how this would apply to timber products. Ms Lawder raised this earlier. We use wood to make fires. Does this mean that we should ban timber-framed houses or timber cladding? No; of course not. Building standards to construct or clad a public building require timber to have different properties and meet higher standards than the timbers used in a single house. This is because they are different buildings and there are different risks that need to be addressed.

Mr Assistant Speaker, we have safety standards to protect the public. If a building complies with those standards, it poses a low risk to occupants. There can be some confusion about who approves buildings against building standards and the difference between the development approval and building approval processes. Compliance with building standards is managed under the Building Act. It outlines the process of building work to be approved, inspected and certified in the ACT. Compliance with the building code and Building Act is not assessed at the development approval stage; a development approval, DA, confirms compliance with planning requirements under the Planning and Development Act.

The notice of decision for each DA reminds proponents that the DA is not an approval under all territory laws and that the development must also comply with other relevant laws, including the building code and Building Act. However, a DA assessment will encompass whether a building has been designed appropriately, for example that a multistorey building has been designed with adequate fire escapes.

Compliance with the detailed fire safety standards in the building code are assessed at the building approval stage. Before most new buildings are built, the owner must get a building approval. Building approvals are issued by private building certifiers. To get the approval, they must provide enough information to the certifier to determine whether the building would comply with the Building Act, including any relevant building standards.

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