Combustible Cladding In Australia – Where are we up to five years after the Grenfell Tragedy?

Tuesday 14 June 2022 marked five years since the Grenfell Tower became engulfed in flames and tragically claimed the lives of 72 residents due to the tower’s external Aluminium Composite Panelling (ACP) cladding.

This event caused shockwaves worldwide, and immediately instigated a national response to investigate the extent of flammable ACP cladding on buildings in Australia.

Whilst actions to mitigate risk continue to be undertaken, after five years, significant numbers of buildings are still covered in flammable cladding, many of them deemed ‘high risk’.

SCA nationally and within each jurisdiction continues to coordinate, collaborate and advocate on behalf of the thousands of people still affected by flammable cladding, pushing for better outcomes for those affected and ensuring at risk Australians are not left behind.

Like so many strata issues, dangerous cladding rectification is legislated at a state level. Working on this issue and collaborating across jurisdictions has given SCA National and each state and territory the benefit of understanding both the advantages and drawbacks of models proposed and rolled out by each jurisdiction.

While some jurisdictions have undertaken swift and decisive action to rectify this issue and have implemented comprehensive rectification schemes that are well underway, other jurisdictions have been slower to respond, or lost momentum.

Here is a brief summary of the activities in each jurisdiction. For more information, please head to the SCA National website and read our comprehensive report.

Australian Capital Territory (ACT)

ACT announced its plan to address combustible cladding on private buildings in late 2020, the first phase covering voluntary application for testing and assessment, and second phase covering actual rectification work. The ACT Government suspects that there are approximately 90 private buildings in Canberra that are affected by combustible cladding, however, has not engaged in a formal audit to ascertain certainty.

As a result of ongoing advocacy from SCA, Owners Corporation Network (OCN) and other stakeholders in the ACT, we have seen an increased sense of urgency on this issue over the past months. Recently, ACT Liberals leader Elizabeth Lee MLA criticised the current Government, calling on them to make this issue a priority to both set a date for phase 2 and release “concrete details of the remediation loan scheme.”

The ACT Government have since announced the details of the concessional loan scheme, which is open for application from 29 August 2022. The loans will be at a fixed interest rate of 4.2%, with a loan repayment period of 10 years following completion of works

New South Wales (NSW)

Project Remediate, implemented by the NSW State Government remains one of the most comprehensive cladding rectification schemes implemented in Australia. Project Remediate offers 10-year interest free loans for OCs to fund rectification, and providing a funding package of up to $139 million towards quality assurance and program management.

As of 18 February 2022, a total of 391 buildings in NSW are engaged in various stages of the rectification process, under either review, assessment, or remediation.

Northern Territory (NT)

The NT Government is yet to take any meaningful steps to assess and address the risk that dangerous cladding bears, including failing to restrict the use of ACP on facades in any capacity.

According to the Fire Protection Association of Australia (FPAA), Darwin city is “under-funded and under-resourced,” and therefore was and continues to be unable to allocate the necessary time, and resources, required to conduct an extensive audit of dangerous cladding materials on its residential apartment buildings.

Although the population of the NT is smaller in comparison to other states, we still know that 10 per cent of people in the NT live in apartment buildings. SCA believes there is scope to follow the lead of other smaller jurisdictions, utilising existing models to find innovative solutions and bring about meaningful risk mitigation for apartment dwellers in the Northern Territory.

Queensland (Qld)

The Queensland Government has been engaged on the issue of cladding since 2018, however is yet to provide any formal assistance to apartment dwellers, with the still onus on bodies corporate to identify, engage fire engineers and pay for rectification.

Interestingly, counter to approaches from other states, Queensland has not publicly released a list of buildings that have been determined to be unsafe. The information instead is housed by the Queensland Building and Construction Commission (QBCC). SCA (Qld) believes that the number of buildings with combustible cladding is quite substantial.

SCA (Qld) expects that the exact process of rectification support from the Government will be defined and determined through consultation starting very soon, and SCA (Qld) will prioritise being heavily involved and engaged in the process to ensure that the needs of members are best represented.

South Australia (SA)

South Australia has completed the first two phases of its three-stage plan, having undergone an audit process and identifying 28 buildings in the ‘high to extreme risk’ category in the state.

At this stage, the state government has communicated that it expects local councils to be responsible for ensuring that owners fix any privately owned buildings that have been categorised into an unsafe level of risk, as well as maintaining the position that the cost of any work being undertaken is the responsibility of the owner of the building.

As a result, cladding rectification is an issue that remains a strong focus area for SCA (SA/NT), having formed a taskforce specifically to focus on engaging Government representatives and fighting for stronger financial and administrative assistance for at risk South Australians.

Tasmania (Tas)

Tasmania had a successful response to the push to investigate dangerous cladding on buildings across Australia in 2017, swiftly undertaking an audit process to determine the extent of the issue in the state.

Ultimately, the audit found that 42 of the 43 buildings that were found to have used ACP were classified as ‘low risk.’ The Launceston General Hospital was the only building in the state (that was identified in the audit), that had been determined to have combustible cladding that placed it in the ‘high-risk’ category. Work was immediately started to ensure the rectification of the issue and completed in 2018.

However, it is important to keep in mind that while buildings may be categorised as ‘low-risk,’ they still may contain noticeable levels of dangerous ACP and pose a potential safety issue to residents. The Tasmanian Shadow Minister for Building and Construction Jen Butler said “there’s no such thing as low-risk or high-risk – it is simply risk.”

Victoria (Vic)

Victoria knows all too well the dangers of flammable cladding on residential buildings, with both the Lacrosse apartment tower fire in 2014 (the first incident of its kind in Australia), and the Neo200 residential tower fire in 2019 causing irreparable damage and destruction to the homes of hundreds of Victorians.

Since then, the state government passed the Cladding Safety Victoria Act 2020, and provided funding of approximately $550 million over 5 years to rectify privately-owned residential buildings.

According to CSV’s 2020-21 annual report, 40 private apartment buildings across Victoria have had rectification completed, and the CSV estimates approximately 14,000 private apartment building residents will be protected through the planned removal of over 118,000 square metres of combustible cladding through 2021- 22.

Western Australia (WA)

Western Australia is well on the way towards comprehensive rectification of dangerous cladding on private buildings in the state.

As of 31 March 2022, of the 52 moderate to high-risk residential buildings identified in an audit by the Western Australian Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety (DMIRS)’s Building and Energy Division, 38 have had remediation works completed and compliance demonstrated, five buildings have remediation works in progress and the remaining nine buildings wait for rectification to commence.

Since 2018, WA has also highly restricted the use of combustible cladding materials. The scope of the audit in WA did not take into consideration existing commercial buildings like offices, retail etc. Non-residential buildings of this description may still face future risk of combustion.

If you would like to read more about the issue of dangerous cladding in Australia, please read our SCA Cladding State of Play Report.

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