Cladding crisis: ‘States should pay’

A STOUSH is brewing between the states and Scott Morrison's government over who will pay to remove combustible cladding on high rise buildings to prevent another Grenfell Tower tragedy.

Federal Industry Minister Karen Andrews today warned the Commonwealth was "not an ATM for the states" as she urged states to pay for the removal and replacement of unsafe cladding themselves.

It came just hours before Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews made the bombshell announcement the state would "fully fund" combustible cladding removal from about 500 high-rise apartments with a $600 million fund - if the Commonwealth chipped in half.

He revealed he had written to the Prime Minister calling for a "partnership" today and requesting the matter be discussed at the Council of Australian Governments next month.

"This is not about politics. It's simply a recognition that this is a national issue," Mr Andrews said at a press conference in Melbourne.

"There needs to be a true national partnership to put community safety first, to rectify these most dangerous buildings."

Ms Andrews encouraged all states to follow Victoria's example to fund cladding removal and replacement this morning.

She made the remarks before Mr Andrews announced the details of the plan, including the call for the Commonwealth to commit funding as well.

"The Commonwealth is not an ATM for the states," Ms Andrews said on ABC radio.

"This problem is of the states' making and they need to step up and fix the problem and dig into their own pockets," she said.

Victoria's Housing Minister Richard Wynne said if the Commonwealth was unable to provide financial assistance, the state would increase its building levy to cover the other $300 million.

Combustible cladding was blamed for the tragic Grenfell Tower fire in London in 2017, which claimed 72 lives.

The UK government pledged in May to spend £200 million ($355 million) to remove and replace unsafe cladding for about 170 high-rise buildings.

Ms Andrews this morning also refused to take responsibility for fixing building industry issues such as skyrocketing indemnity insurance sparked by apartment block disasters in Sydney and Melbourne.

"If the regulations had been enforced and there had been compliance, insurers would be most likely not looking at a higher level of risk and a higher level of premiums," Ms Andrews told the ABC.

"The states cannot walk away from their role in the escalation of the premiums.

"They have to convince the insurers that they are taking appropriate action and that the risk is going to be lowered."

RELATED: Sydney residents in dark about 'deathtrap' buildings

Industry Minister Karen Andrews has urged all states to follow Victoria’s lead after reports emerged it would unveil a plan to cover the costs to remove and replace combustible cladding. Picture: Glenn Hampson
Industry Minister Karen Andrews has urged all states to follow Victoria’s lead after reports emerged it would unveil a plan to cover the costs to remove and replace combustible cladding. Picture: Glenn Hampson

She added: "Leadership is not just stepping in to try and solve a problem which the states and territories have created for themselves."

"Leadership in this instance is bringing the parties together to try and nut out a solution because whilst it's been staring them in the face, the states and territories have not picked up and taken the action that's necessary."

Ms Andrews will once again offer for the federal government to fund a taskforce to help the states to work towards national building regulations.

The proposal was knocked back in February.

She welcomed Victoria's proposal on flammable cladding, saying it was a "very positive step".

Ms Andrews also hit out at the states this morning for the time it had taken to review high-rise buildings with combustible cladding, saying audits appeared to have been conducted in "slow motion".

"Most states and territories have identified where they have high risk but the audits are not yet complete at this stage," Ms Andrews said.

"I will be pressing the states and territories for a timeline to get those audits completed."

HOW DO THE STATES COMPARE?

NSW

More than 1000 buildings in NSW were identified as having potentially dangerous cladding in a 2017 government audit.

A register was established this year where property owners with combustible cladding were required to list their building.

The government does not intend to make the register public.

VICTORIA

More than 1000 buildings in Victoria were classified as either "extreme risk" or high risk" due to cladding in a taskforce audit.

Another 38 per cent of the 2227 buildings audited were classified as a "moderate risk".

QUEENSLAND

It's unknown how many buildings in Queensland have combustible cladding but more than 4300 properties are still being checked in phase two of the state's audit process.

SOUTH AUSTRALIA

Four major buildings - the Adelaide Convention Centre, the Women's and Children's Hospital, Adelaide Oval and the Royal Adelaide Hospital - were found to have combustible cladding in an audit last year but it was found the cladding was only a low or moderate risk.

Another 47 buildings were undergoing an audit following an initial study of 1117 buildings.

WESTERN AUSTRALIA

Almost 450 private buildings in WA were found to have combustible cladding in an ongoing audit.

The latest update this month shows 44 of those need further action to tackle the risk and 23 'enforcement actions' have commenced.

An audit of public buildings also found 25 needed "remedial action" to fix cladding risks. That has been completed for just two of the venues.



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