Second Reading-BUILDING AMENDMENT (CLADDING RECTIFICATION) BILL 2019

Mr FREGON (Mount Waverley) (17:41:55): I rise to also speak on the Building Amendment (Cladding Rectification) Bill 2019. I thank previous members for their contributions, especially the member for Geelong and of course the member for Mordialloc, who did us the service of providing a little recap of the member for Kew’s history section, which was good to hear. But I noticed that the member for Kew did talk about some knowledge from 2008 and then a moment in 2011 when it seemed the Gillard government was involved in something and then of course there was the period from very, very late 2014 to 2019. There seemed to be a bit of a gap there in any sort of accountability from around 2010 to 2014. I found that curious. I would like to thank the Minister for Planning for the hard work that has been put into rectifying this very serious issue around the high-risk combustible cladding. Obviously the use of combustible cladding on Victorian buildings is a critical public safety issue. While there may be some concerns, as the member for Kew has said from his side, that public money should not be spent to assist home owners, in this case I think when we consider the greater public safety issues for not just the home owners but also those people who live and work in and traverse those buildings, it is fitting that public money is used for this purpose. Our government is committed to rectifying this very serious situation. We are leading Australia and the world on this issue by inspecting more than 2000 buildings to better understand the scale of the high-risk combustible cladding problem and to identify where there were key regulatory gaps. Use of combustible cladding is a complex issue facing major cities around the world. As it stands, we have many home owners in Victoria grappling with the cost and complexity of removing this cladding. Investigating the issues at hand and developing an appropriate response has no doubt been complicated but worthwhile. The government has, amongst other things, developed a risk assessment tool for assessing buildings with combustible cladding, restricted the use of certain combustible cladding materials, and undertaken a statewide cladding audit of both private and government buildings—which remains private, for obvious reasons, although there are some who like to hand out addresses. The fire at the Lacrosse tower in 2014 sent shockwaves through our nation’s construction industry and sparked major concern over the high-risk cladding used in Australian buildings. In response our government started our nation’s first ever audit to identify buildings fitted with combustible cladding and to assess their risk rating. In 2017 the Victorian Cladding Taskforce was established, jointly chaired by former Premier and architect Ted Baillieu and former Deputy Premier and Minister for Planning John Thwaites. Obviously bipartisanship in this matter was very important. If I can go back to our earlier discussion on the matter of public importance on mental health, if I am correct the member for Ferntree Gully also applauded bipartisanship in the establishment of Beyond Blue. So there are important issues, whether they be mental health or in this case cladding, where we benefit by working together. The task force released an interim report in December 2017 and a final report in July 2019. One of its key recommendations was for the government to take action to rectify buildings with high-risk cladding and to establish a dedicated cladding agency. On 16 July 2019 the Premier and the Minister for Planning announced the establishment of this cladding rectification program, the key aim being to support owners to fix buildings with high-risk cladding in Victoria. As others have said, this program includes a $600 million package to rectify the highest risk private residential buildings and the development of a new agency, Cladding Safety Victoria, to oversee delivery of this program. The bill also introduces an additional building permit levy as a source of partial funding for the cladding rectification program. I also think that is fair given that, as previous members have said, the industry has been involved in putting us in this position, so the industry should be a part of assisting us out of it. This bill will also enable the state to have more powers to take action against dodgy building practitioners or others in respect to the installation of high-risk cladding. This bill gives the Victorian Building Authority the ability to provide information and advice on rectification work and make payments to persons or bodies eligible for financial assistance or rectification works, and it enables claims for payment to be made for building works associated with rectification work. This bill introduces an additional building permit levy, as I said, which will assist in funding the carrying out of this work. It also allows for a review of the new additional levy amount to be conducted within four years of commencement of the relevant provisions to determine whether the levy needs to stay once rectification works have, hopefully, been completed. Importantly, I think, this bill gives the government the power to take legal action in respect of combustible cladding against the builders on behalf of owners who access this assistance. The bill provides for rights of owners to be subrogated to the state so the government can take legal action against wrongdoers where appropriate. After all, it is dodgy practices in the most part and cost-cutting measures that have led to this problem to begin with. The government will take action against wrongdoers on a case-by-case basis, and funds won from these legal actions will go towards aiding recovery of the costs of the rectification program. It is important that we get on with the job of fixing these properties immediately, but that does not mean that we have to let the builders responsible get away with what they have already done. Where builders have done the wrong thing, it is only fair that they contribute to the cost of fixing their mistakes. The bill will allow the state to take action in this area against private actors responsible for the installation of cladding and allow us to recover the costs of the rectification. Other courses of action will continue to be considered, including the use of disciplinary action under the Building Act 1993, as part of an overall approach to pursue wrongdoers even where this may not result in cost recovery. Victorians rightly expect those who created the current problem to contribute to fixing it, as I have said before. Fifteen buildings have been chosen at this stage to be the first to be rectified based on their risk rating and incorporate a variety of building types. These first 15 projects will enable Cladding Safety Victoria to test the processes it has put in place and then scale up to the next tranche of buildings. Before the end of the year Cladding Safety Victoria will notify the owners corporations of the next 150 buildings that will come into the program in 2020. Cladding Safety Victoria is scheduled to complete due diligence on all 15 buildings by the end of October. This enables Cladding Safety Victoria to check on work done to date and estimate funding requirements for rectification. This is the first time anywhere in the world that a government has sought to put in place a systematic response to this highly complex problem. I note that the Minister for Planning recently returned from London, where they were very interested in what we are doing even after they have had obviously the Grenfell fire that was mentioned before, which was obviously a serious, serious tragedy for them. It is good to know that we can help them in, hopefully, their rectification work. The state has formed a strong response to a complex issue and is getting on with the job of making sure every Victorian is safe from combustible cladding. This bill is about keeping Victorians safe. We have seen the worst‑case scenario with combustible cladding with the Grenfell fire in London which saw 72 people tragically lose their lives. The Andrews government is leading the nation and the globe in its strong program to rectify the situation, but as I have outlined, this is not purely about safety; this is also about what is fair and about home owners who trusted their builders and were let down by dodgy practices and dangerous building products. I am proud to see us having such a strong response to this issue. I commend the bill to the house.