THURSDAY, 12 OCTOBER 2017
SUBJECTS: Labor’s plan to better protect Australians in their homes and workplaces by improving fire safety in buildings; Defence cyber security hack.
MARIA VAMVAKINOU, MEMBER FOR CALWELL: Good morning, I would like to welcome you all here to the Metropolitan Fire Brigade’s training facility here is Craigieburn. I would particularly like to welcome Bill Shorten, it's always a pleasure to have you Bill, in the Federal seat of Calwell and also my Parliamentary colleagues Kim Carr and Brendan O'Connor. We're here today to discuss some vitally important issues around safety and sub-standard building materials that lead to jeopardising the safety of many Australians in their homes. Thank you.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Good morning everybody and first of all I just want to thank the MFB and the officials who are running this training centre. It was great to meet trainee firefighters upon whom the Victorian community is going to depend on in the future. It's very motivating to see the skill, professionalism and enthusiasm of the firefighters here and I know that we're in good hands. But having said that, I think that in public life politicians have a responsibility to do everything we can to keep people safe. We shouldn't just rely on our young men and women firefighters to rescue the situation, not when by good regulation, we can keep Australians safer from the threat of fire. Between 2000 and 2013, approximately 1300 Australians lost their lives in house fires around Australia. Australians were shocked when they saw the tragic footage of the Grenfell Tower fire disaster in London where over 80 people lost their lives.
The Labor Party is therefore, calling upon the banning of the importation of polyethylene - highly inflammable building cladding which exacerbates the risk of fire and the spread of fire once a fire has started. Labor is calling upon Turnbull and his government to join with us and ban the importation of this highly flammable product which endangers lives and public safety. And furthermore, we are now calling upon the Government to join with Labor to set proper, stringent, best practice building licensing for people who work in the building industry in this country, and we are also calling for stronger penalties for people in the building industry when they put in unsafe product or they fail to keep buildings safe. We are well past the hour in this country where we need to do more to prevent the potential for the sort of terrible fire disaster we saw in the United Kingdom.
There are very few things which make me really angry in politics but when I see the Liberal National Government putting profit ahead of peoples' safety, that makes me really angry. Labor is calling upon Mr Turnbull to personally get involved in this issue, ban the importation of unsafe cladding, develop National Building Standards and Building Licensing Standards of the best practice, and we want stronger penalties for those who breach these safety laws so that we don't have to put our men and women firefighters in harm's way any more than they have to.
I would now like to invite Senator Carr and Shadow Minister O'Connor to talk further about Labor's commitment to keeping people safe.
SENATOR KIM CARR, SHADOW MINISTER FOR INNOVATION, INDUSTRY, SCIENCE AND RESEARCH: Well thank you, Bill, and thank you Bill for having the courage to present this policy to the Australian people on behalf of the Labor Party. This is a policy which is all about restoring accountability for public safety for the National Building Code. I have had the experience of sitting through a Senate Inquiry, where witness after witness has come before the Senate to explain just how completely inadequate our National Building Code is. It is inadequate simply because it is not enforceable. It is not enforceable because there are too many people who are able to point the finger at someone else so that there is no accountability.
The Labor plan is about restoring accountability, following the advice of the expert witnesses that have come before the Australian Senate and following the advice of the Senate report. We will totally ban the importation of this highly damaging, highly dangerous aluminium cladding that is not made in Australia and of course, is the subject of so many fires around the world - 19 recognised fires around the world, where this material has been at the centre of the loss of life in a number of circumstances. Where we have seen in Australia, with the Lacrosse building in Docklands in Melbourne here, nearly four years ago and still we have no-one being held accountable for what is an extraordinary disaster in regards to firefighting in this country. We will also move to have a National Licensing System put in place to break through this do nothing, business as usual approach that the current Government has. The procrastination and blame-shifting, the finger pointing which has gone on that means that no-one is accountable at the moment.
We will also impose a regime to enforce a National Licensing Arrangement with a new penalties regime to protect Australians so that people are held accountable for putting in these unsafe products in the building. And where it is found they have breached the Building Code, someone can be held responsible and ensure that that action is stopped.
We will also be re-establishing the Minister for Industry as being the person that actually fronts the Building Minister's forum. At the moment, this Government has relegated that job to the junior, to the Assistant Minister, the Parliamentary Secretary, who is completely and totally out of his depth, out of touch and completely unable to fulfil his function in terms of making sure we have national leadership in regards to what is a fundamental responsibility of government and that is public safety.
BRENDAN O’CONNOR, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EMPLOYMENT AND WORKPLACE RELATIONS: Thanks very much Bill and thanks Kim. This is a very important initiative because it will make people safer. It will make those who live in those high-rise buildings safer. It will make workers safe and the pattern of behaviour of the Turnbull Government, this Liberal Government in the way in which it deals with safety is reprehensible. In fact on every occasion, where the Government's been asked to deal with safety, they have either looked away or they have chosen to make it worse.
We saw that recently with the abolition of the Road Safety Tribunal which not only made truck drivers' lives unsafe and less safe on the roads, it made all road users' lives unsafe. We saw that when they sought to impose penalties on people, on workers who are occupational health and safety representatives in the building industry. In fact shifting the onus to make it less likely for a worker representing other workers on site to report a hazardous or risky situation. Now, I am glad to say that was defeated in the Senate but it seems now again and again that the Government chooses to put either profits before lives or chooses to turn its back on safety of workers and safety of the public in general.
Now here is an opportunity for the Government. Bill Shorten has made it very clear that Federal Labor will introduce the ban on importation of a highly lethal product and at the same time will penalise developers if they were to use such a product in buildings of this nature. Now all Malcolm Turnbull has to do, is for once in his life to put safety first and support Labor's initiative.
SHORTEN: Thanks. Are there any questions on this or other matters?
JOURNALIST: Just quickly, in regards to banning the use of the cladding, isn't that - is that more of a state issue, how much of that is a Federal issue?
SHORTEN: I will get Senator Carr to supplement this answer, but when it comes to keeping our borders safe from dangerous products, that is a Federal Government responsibility, it is a customs responsibility. Now I think Australians are sick and tired of politicians buck-passing, making excuses, not fronting up. We know that this product, if it is on cladding and high-rises, is very desperately unsafe. Why should we put our firefighters in harm’s way, and yet not do what we can as the national parliament to make the public safe and to keep our firefighters safe? We are going to campaign every day until we get the ban on the importation of this product because Australians deserve to have a parliament who is focused on keeping people safe, not allowing property developers and the shonks to make bigger profits - Kim.
JOURNALIST: What should be done about the cladding on the 10,000 building's across Australia, if it's already there?
SHORTEN: The first thing I would do is identify where it is and I think we have got to put some life back into the Building Minister's meeting. This is a forum where all the states come together with the national government. I think what we can do effectively and quickly is follow Labor's plan. We ban the importation of this material. We have stronger and more comprehensive licensing standards. We also make sure that there is stronger penalties. We don't send the water boy from the Turnbull Government to do this job, we send the senior Minister or someone of Cabinet rank to do the job.
And let's be straight here, in our shopping centres, in our aged care facilities, I am not satisfied that we have got qualified people checking the fire prevention systems, the water sprinkler systems. I am not satisfied that as a nation and as a collection of states that we've got the best possible safety standards in. I am not satisfied, that for buildings which are less than 25m tall or eight stories, that we should not have fire sprinkler systems installed as opposed to just relying on the fire brigade to put the fire out once it starts. So I think there are many measures. Building safety and public safety is a responsibility for all levels of government. We won't shirk it because we will not put the profits of property developers ahead of the safety of our public and firefighters.
JOURNALIST: So because you've said how dangerous this cladding is, does that mean once you've identified these 10,000 buildings that have cladding, you'll ask for that cladding to be removed?
SHORTEN: I think we need to know where it is -
JOURNALIST: And once you do know where it is?
JOURNALIST: I think sooner or in later those high rise buildings, people are going to ask do they want to live in buildings where you've got this lack of safety? But there are very tangible measures we can do even without going through that process. Let's make sure that for our fire protection systems, we've got trained and licensed people checking on the systems. Let's make sure that we've got proper fire standards which are best practice, which don't sacrifice safety for profit. Let's ban the importation of this dangerous material. There are plenty of practical measures which the parliaments of Australia can do working together. We've got the experts, we've got the fire brigades all around Australia, we've got the professional fire sprinkler installers - they know what needs to be done. I do not believe that it's acceptable in 2017 to keep driving past this clear risk, and just assume, with fingers crossed, that it won't happen here. Fire safety is something which the Federal Government can act on; I think Mr Turnbull needs to engage himself personally and I think we need to make sure that we do everything we can to stop the sort of disasters which we've seen overseas from occurring here.
JOURNALIST: How confident are you that (inaudible question)?
SHORTEN: I'll get Kim Carr to supplement this answer, but the ban on importation of material, in my opinion, is a no-brainer. As I said in my opening remarks, few things actually really just make me angry, but when I see the Liberal/National Government in Canberra putting the safety of people secondary to the profits of big property developers and shonky builders, that does make me angry. We should stop this importation, but there's more that we can do and today we've outlined more of our plan. I believe that the people involved in the building industry have to meet national licensing standards - should be required to. I believe we need to see greater penalties for those builders who cut corners. At the end of the day, I want to make sure that we've done everything we can to avoid a disaster happening in the future.
CARR: The situation in regards to the manufacturer - there are no Australian manufacturers who are producing this product. I've spoken directly to the Industry Association and they provided that advice to me directly, I have also asked the same set of questions to various witnesses before the Senate Inquiry. If the Assistant Minister had actually read the evidence, more to the point, if he'd read the briefs from his own Department who were also present at the hearings, he would know what the information is. There are no Australian manufacturers of this particular product. The importers will tell you that they are getting this material out of various countries from overseas. In regards to the product that is currently on the walls of various buildings across the country, various state governments, hospitals, we're looking at old people's homes, we're looking at a whole series of buildings that at the moment the liability risk is with the owners of the building. There was a huge legal dispute (inaudible) with the Lacrosse building as to who is responsible for the removal of that product, and so unfortunately what's happening is, it's the current tenants that are being held responsible for a product which is saving about $3 per square metre, $3 per square metre, it's going to cost very, very large sums of money and it's the tenants themselves, unfortunately, that are carrying that legal liability at the moment.
JOURNALIST: Just to something else entirely, what do you think of the hacking of technical information about fighters and navy vessels in Adelaide?
SHORTEN: If I was Prime Minister I'd be demanding answers, not making excuses. Labor takes this hacking Defence material very seriously. The Government does not appear to take this problem very seriously. I think Australians reasonably expect sensitive Defence information to be protected. Clearly, it hasn't been in this case. I think that if the Government needs more resources to protect material, we should expend those resources. I mean, this Government says well because the information wasn't too sensitive, it doesn't really matter. Well maybe we just got lucky this time - I just don't want there to be a next time, or a worse time. The Government needs to smarten up its attitude, find out who's done the hacking, and reassure Australians that sensitive defence information will not be hacked again.
JOURNALIST: Should there be tighter rules for sub-contractors who have access to this information?
SHORTEN: I think the whole chain of information needs to be tightened up. This shouldn't happen. To be honest, I'm a bit lost for words that you've got the Government sort of just airily dismissing the hacking of Defence information. I think most Australians would expect that sensitive Defence information would be better protected than it currently is, and I don't believe the Government's taking this issue seriously. So again I return to where I started, if I was the Prime Minister, I'd be asking for answers, not making excuses.
JOURNALIST: They said it's commercially sensitive but not classified, but you're obviously not satisfied with that explanation?
SHORTEN: The very fact that people who shouldn't have had access to this information got access, should ring alarm bells in the Government. But they don't appear to have woken up to this being a problem. If we got lucky this time, and it was only sensitive information, not even more significant information, we need to make sure there is no next time. The Government needs to wake up to itself, start taking its responsibilities seriously, and start protecting sensitive Defence information. Thanks everybody.