Grenfell Tower still burning at 4.43am on 14 June 2017, London (Natalie Oxford/Creative Commons 4.0)

Australian Senate committee to probe cladding after Grenfell fire

21 June 2017 | By GCR Staff 1 Comment

Prompted by the deadly Grenfell tower blaze in London last week a Senate committee will now investigate the use of cladding on buildings in Australia.

At least 79 people are now missing and presumed dead following the unprecedented fire in west London.

“I’m hoping we can have an inquiry to get to the bottom of this”– Australia senator Chris Ketter

Investigators have not identified what caused the blaze although a main focus of concern is the recently installed cladding on the building’s exterior, along which flames spread with terrifying speed.

The Senate economics committee will now use a public hearing to zero in on the use of cladding material in Australia.

The committee chair, Labor senator Chris Ketter, said the Grenfell tragedy was a “timely reminder” that the Parliament had a responsibility to stop a similar disaster in Australia, reports ABC.

He said the main risk was that some construction companies used cladding products which were not meant to be used for high-rise buildings.

“I’m very concerned by the lack of progress in this area. We do have a patchwork of regulations in this country ... so there's always a possibility that something slips through the cracks,” Senator Ketter said.

“I’m hoping we can have an inquiry to get to the bottom of this.”

Senator Ketter compared the Grenfell blaze to the fire which consumed the Lacrosse apartment building in Melbourne in 2014.

Firefighters blamed flammable cladding for that blaze, and the Victoria State Government ordered it to be removed earlier this year.

“What you've got here is perhaps an example of the regulations not being tight enough and enforcement not being adequate,” Senator Ketter said, reports ABC.

Independent senator Nick Xenophon said his party would back the hearing.

“This is an issue that requires absolute bipartisan support. We need to have a national audit of buildings around the country, this was not done after the Lacrosse fire,” he said.

“The London tragedy is more than just a wake-up call. There are now no excuses for any government at a local, state or federal level not to do everything possible to ensure the safety of occupants and visitors to buildings.”

Engineering experts warned that there may be a large number of unsafely-clad buildings in Australia.

“It's a material that’s quite commonly used,” Victorian president of Engineers Australia, Chris Stoltz, told ABC.

“I wouldn't be surprised if there are scores of buildings in each capital city and maybe in some of the regional cities as well.”

Industry Minister Arthur Sinodinos told the Senate that Australian regulators were in touch with their UK counterparts about the Grenfell disaster.

He said Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull would write to premiers and chief ministers, urging them to make sure new buildings meet Australia’s safety standards.

“We implore all states and territories to enforce compliance with the national construction code,” Senator Sinodinos ABC reported.

Image: Grenfell Tower still burning at 4.43am on 14 June 2017, London (Natalie Oxford/CC 4.0)