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Labor Matter of Public Importance - Combustible Cladding

31 July 2019
Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr WOODRUFF (Franklin) - Madam Deputy Speaker, it is a very serious matter at the heart of what we are discussing here today and the slinging match across the Chamber does a disservice to the lives that have been lost and the severity of the issue for people who have been affected. There are real risks in living in buildings that have flammable materials. The fact is that humans living in buildings are surrounded by flammable materials everywhere and risk is not an on or off thing, it is a continuum. That is the nature of the world we live in. Everything we do is about making a judgment call and essentially making a social assessment, or cultural assessment sometimes, about what we think is appropriate in terms of risk. That can change dramatically, as we see around the world that different societies value things quite differently.

We have seen the northern Scandinavian countries very sensibly returning to trying to enable their children to have the sorts of childhoods that people in this Chamber would have grown up with. That means accepting a greater level of risk in children's playgrounds and there is a big move to rethink the costs we have imposed on our children by trying to remove every single risk in things like children's playgrounds and opportunities for a carefree childhood. We make decisions and we change our minds - fashions change - and there are real costs to building buildings and it is probably just a statement of fact that it is impossible to remove every risk.

However, that being said, the case of the Grenfell fire was the grossest example of the cheap penny-pinching of large corporations and massive companies who chose to make a $100 000-odd saving on cladding and more than 70 people lost their lives. Those were not rich people. They were poor people, and often those two things come together. Penny-pinching happens more often in the buildings for poor people in poor communities than it does in wealthy estate areas, let's face it. We have to be very careful to make sure we have safeguards and protections so that people do not get dudded and have their lives put at risk.

That is why I want to come to the bigger issue here, which started in the 1990s when the national competition reform policies came in. It was the mechanism used by the Liberal free market ideologues to cook up a sort of pseudo evidence base for why it would be good for the economy if we privatised the hell out of every service provided by the public sector. It came from a Liberal ideology, which is to get rid of public services and move it all to the private sector, because in the words of the national competition policy at the time, the private market could deliver in a more cost-effective manner.

What a load of hogwash. With that has come, in the building and construction sector in particular, a disastrous amount of red tape that has rained down and continues to rain down on individual homeowner builders and small construction businesses because of this Liberal obsession with privatisation. The whole system has been designed for large private corporations to build at that level. Meanwhile, the houses that most Tasmanians can afford to build or most Tasmanian construction companies can afford to build are caught up in ludicrous paperwork and insurance premiums. What we are seeing here biting across housing surveyors and building certifiers in Tasmania and the rest of Australia is skyrocketing insurance premiums.

There is a solution to this. We can do what other countries have sensibly done. We can reverse this process. Local governments should be responsible for building certification. Local governments, state and national bodies should be responsible for building survey. It should be the remit, the bread and butter work, of the state to provide the insurance we need to build in the future. We cannot leave it up to individual certifiers in Tasmania to struggle on. Give them a job in a local council. Put them under the wing of the local council's premiums and insurance. Put them under the wing of the state government. We as a state need to take responsibility for these issues. We cannot devolve it to individuals, as is happening in parts of Tasmania, where an engineer in Launceston paid $65 000 for professional indemnity last year and then was quoted $450 000 to do the same thing this year. He negotiated it down to $165 000. That is related. It is exactly the same thing. It is all part of this struggle to privatise when we need to come back to looking at what we want.

We want to build houses of good quality for people to live in. We want to have checks and balances. We want to make sure there is a reasonable level of risk. The only way we can ensure that is to bring that responsibility back under the wing of state and local governments.

I asked the minister in her national call for the solution which she proposes to call for an investigation into the damaging impacts of privatisation in this area. Call for it. Ask what they are. Look at what other countries are doing to bring this under public responsibility and see where the benefits are.