Page 3993 - Week 11 - Wednesday, 20 September 2017
Assembly, fire safety cannot be determined solely on the presence of aluminium cladding, as the building materials are just one of the factors which contribute to the overall fire risk.
Other factors which are also important include building height, the position and number of exits, access and egress, the type and vulnerability of tenants and the presence of sprinkler systems, smoke detectors and fire alarms. I think that is very important at this point in the context of some of the semantics we are hearing from the opposition around what words the ministers have used. For me, a really important part of this story is that no single factor determines the fire safety of a building. I will come back to that later but I think it is important that we actually think about that whole perspective when it comes to the relative fire risk of a building.
That point around other factors is why the National Construction Code, or the NCC, which regulates building construction across the territory, does not ban particular building products. Instead, the risk a product poses is determined based on where it will be located and what it will be used for, and Minister Gentleman has made some comments to that end today. The NCC is written into ACT law through the Building Act 2004 which requires that all new buildings and new building work must comply with the fire safety requirements outlined in the code.
It is also important to note that aluminium composite panels can be manufactured with a variety of different core materials ranging from highly combustible to non-combustible varieties. Therefore the presence of aluminium cladding alone does not indicate that a building is not conforming to combustibility limitations and performance standards as set out in the NCC.
The recent Senate committee inquiry into non-conforming building products found that under the current NCC there are compliant uses for aluminium composite panels with a polyethylene core. It was the committee’s recommendation that, in light of the tragic outcomes of the Grenfell tower fire, these panels should not be considered as a legitimate building material and should be banned into the future.
Here in the territory, the government first raised concerns about the use of aluminium composite panels in 2009-10, though these concerns related to these materials being used in a non-compliant manner. In contrast with these previous issues, as Minister Fitzharris has said on a number of occasions, the aluminium composite panels at the Centenary Hospital for Women and Children were compliant with the requirements of the NCC at the time of construction. There is no question about the compliance of the materials or the way they were applied to the building in that contemporary sense.
ACT Health has also been proactive in its work to assess any risk resulting from the use of these panels across its facilities by undertaking a desktop audit as well as seeking a subsequent external assessment. I understand that the minister made the decision following these reviews to remove the panels at the Centenary Hospital for Women and Children as a precautionary measure. I think this is an entirely reasonable and appropriate response. The ACT has been aware of this issue and has undertaken the appropriate assessment over recent years.