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The Cladding Debacle Deepens

Updated: Nov 15, 2021

Sometimes having a bigger stick helps you fix all sorts of problems whoever caused them.


Victoria airs laws to chase 'dodgy' builders for cladding bills

Senior Reporter

Australian Financial Review

Oct 15, 2019 — 12.23pm

Victoria has announced new laws allowing the state government to chase builders for the cost of cladding rectification, prompting the main industry body to fume that it is being singled out for a problem caused by many players, including the government.

On Tuesday Planning Minister Richard Wynne said the Building Amendment (Cladding Rectification) Bill 2019, allowing the government to raise building permit costs as well as create the "step-in" power to claw back costs on behalf of owners corporations, would be effective by year-end.

"It gives a robust tool to pursue those that have done the wrong thing," Mr Wynne told The Australian Financial Review.

"The advice provided to government was clear that we needed to ensure that we had an adequate pathway to in fact really step in in place of a body corporate to pursue building professionals and builders who’ve done the wrong thing."

But the new law, crucial to allowing a clawback of costs to rectify combustible cladding on a first group 15 buildings, out of what the government says will be a total 500, that are due to start rectification work before year-end, put all the focus on builders, Master Builders Association of Victoria chief executive Rebecca Casson said, who called Mr Wynne's comments "misleading and unfair".

"The majority of builders are not cowboys and the majority are not dodgy," Ms Casson told the Financial Review.

"There are just a few that probably have done the wrong thing and should be held to account. But that’s not the story being put forward today, unfortunately."

The government's official announcement, in which Mr Wynne talked about "saving owners the time, hassle and expense of chasing dodgy builders through the courts", was a disappointing step away from the all-of-industry solution spoken about over the past few months, Ms Casson said.

"We have talked a lot about our members not walking away from their response," she said.

"But to be fair we do need to look at the whole supply chain, as well as agencies that have overseen the approval of projects and buildings as well."

While the circumstance around every cladding-affected building was different, a VCAT judgment earlier over the installation of flammable cladding on Melbourne's Lacrosse residential tower that overwhelmingly put liability on the fire engineer, building surveyor and architect ahead of the builder showed the matter was not as clear-cut as the government was making it out to be, Ms Casson said.

"There’s major evidence that showed it’s a much bigger issue than just builders alone," she said.

Ms Casson said she had not seen details of the proposed new legislation or the scope it gave the state government to hit builders with retrospective liabilities and could not comment. But she said she supported the need to claw back costs from builders who had done the wrong thing.

Dan O'Brien, head of new agency Cladding Safety Victoria, which will oversee the rectification program, in August said the number of private residential buildings deemed "high risk", those in the category deemed in need of public funds to rectify, would "certainly" rise over 500.

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