2 June 2022

UPDATED: Government rejects claims it's dragging its feet over flammable cladding

| Lottie Twyford
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Shane Rattenbury

Attorney-General Shane Rattenbury responded to criticism from Opposition Leader Elizabeth Lee on behalf of Rebecca Vassarotti. Photo: Region Media.

UPDATED 2:30 pm: The ACT Government has rejected claims it hasn’t acted quickly to remedy potentially deadly flammable cladding on residential buildings in Canberra.

Opposition Leader Elizabeth Lee accused the government of not responding quickly enough, despite knowing the dangers associated with combustible cladding since the horrific Grenfell Tower catastrophe in 2017.

But Attorney-General Shane Rattenbury, who responded on behalf of the government in place of Minister for Sustainable Building and Construction Rebecca Vassarotti, dismissed that charge.

This afternoon, Mr Rattenbury will outline the steps the government has taken since 2017 to assist building owners in identifying and removing the cladding.

He will tell the Assembly the government has not only helped 25 owners corporations test and identify their cladding but has also given them expert advice. Hence, they have a “realistic understanding” of the risk it poses.

Mr Rattenbury will say the full details of the concessional loan scheme will be announced in the coming weeks.

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But the Opposition Leader said she had little faith in this announcement being forthcoming as promised.

She said timelines had consistently changed in the last few years.

“There has been no assurance to the community and there is no certainty about the plan going forward,” Ms Lee told reporters earlier today.

“The Minister … has no idea what she is doing.”

Ms Lee has also called on the government to undertake a full audit of the situation, saying the full extent of the problem is likely unknown.

Yet, according to the ACT Government, this has “essentially been completed” already.

Grenfell Towers

Combustible cladding rose to global prominence after the deadly Grenfell Tower fire on 14 June 2017. Combustible cladding. Photo: Creative Commons.

8 am: The Opposition has called on the ACT Government to get a move on dealing with combustible cladding following what they are describing as “years of inaction”.

Canberra Liberals Leader Elizabeth Lee accused the government of having known about the issue of combustible cladding since London’s Grenfell Tower Fire in 2017 but had yet to make any progress in having it removed from the ACT’s buildings.

In a motion she will put forward today (2 June), Ms Lee will ask the government to finalise details of a rebate scheme announced last year so owners corporations can get on with the job of making their buildings safe.

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Ms Lee asked for final details of the combustible cladding remediation loan scheme to be published by the end of this month and for a comprehensive audit of any residential building not yet tested to be undertaken before 30 September 2022.

She’s also called for the government to set a target date for removing cladding entirely.

“Combustible cladding is a known hazard present in our community, it can be life-threatening, and this Labor-Greens Government needs to act decisively,” she said.

The Opposition Leader said some owners corporations had been forced to take matters into their own hands and remove cladding without any support or certainty.

Elizabeth Lee

Opposition Leader Elizabeth Lee said the ACT Government was taking too long to act on removing combustible cladding. Photo: Region Media.

In the middle of last year, the ACT Government announced a private buildings cladding scheme that would offer eligible owners corporations a rebate of 50 per cent (up to $20,000) of the cost of testing and assessing the cladding.

As of 2 May this year, the scheme had received 30 applications. Of these, 22 have been approved, six were deemed ineligible and two were withdrawn.

The ACT Government says around 65 owners corporations are eligible for the scheme.

A spokesperson for Major Projects Canberra said it anticipated further applications before the scheme’s closing date.

Details of the second phase of this scheme – the concessional loan scheme – were expected to be announced in the first half of this year, but so far, there is minimal information available about the scheme.

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It’s understood that $50 million has been allocated to it, there will be no application or loan fees and the loans will be up to 10 years to a maximum of $15 million at the government’s cost of borrowing, around 2.5 to 3 per cent.

A procurement process is reportedly underway.

Some owners of buildings where combustible cladding has been found are struggling to gain insurance or have been forced to replace cladding to retain their cover.

Vantage Strata managing director Chris Miller told Region Media last year it appeared the ACT Government was “woefully behind” the rest of the country when it came to getting on top of the combustible cladding issue.

He now said the government is doing well at making public announcements but “the detail still isn’t resolved and it’s uncertain as to what the timeline will be before owners corporations are able to benefit from the scheme”.

Mr Miller agreed with Ms Lee that some have been forced to take action to remove cladding because maintaining their insurance would otherwise have been too costly or impossible.

“With every day that goes by, the pressure of the need to maintain adequate insurance will build and there will be more buildings that are required to take action,” he said.

He explained replacing combustible cladding would be a challenge to every owners corporation because the process of replacing it is long, complex and costly.

More to come.

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I just hope everyone dwells for a little bit on the fact that we have two Greens pollies, who are now in government as ministers, who are denying govt did the wrong thing, reject taking responsibility, are blocking transparency, don’t want to compensate no-fault owners who purchased a govt approved product that was dodgy, deny the need to take action…

These actions are antithetical to Greens values.

Kinda proves the point that the ACT Greens have fallen so far from their (supposed) principles. But it ain’t new. Rattenbury was Minister for Misery for half a decade, ruining the lives of hundreds of vulnerable detainees in Canberras jail, which is one of the worst in Australia. They. Don’t. Care.

Stephen Ellis1:49 pm 02 Jun 22

The ACT Government’s response to this issue is woeful, notwithstanding the fact that it has taken so long to get to a point where virtually nothing is actually being done by them to address an issue that is not the fault of apartment owners. It must be noted that all of these apartments were granted a Certificate of Occupancy before owners were able to move in, only to be told now that these same apartments are “unsafe” because of the use of a product that has long been known to pose a fire risk.

The Government’s offer of a subsidised loan does little more that place additional burdens on Owners’ Corporations in the form of loan management overheads, the risk of defaulting on what would be an unsecured loan, not to mention the loan management fees and substantial interest payments – 2.5-3.0% per annum on a loan of up to $15m over a ten year period is not an insubstantial amount to add to already substantial costs associated with the removal of combustible cladding.

Many Owners’ Corporations are not willing to accept such a loan as a viable option for addressing this problem, so the onus falls back on individual owners, who are required to cough up tens of thousands of dollars in special levy fees and whose plight has been completely ignored by the Government.

Insult is added to injury when you consider the fact that owners are being forced to pay significant Government fees & charges to have plans approved and their buildings re-certified, with no guarantee that such certification will be any more enduring than the last one.

Much more needs to be done by the Government to support Apartment Owners, who now provide a substantial contribution to Government coffers in the form of Rates and Taxes, which have increased up to 10-fold over the past 11 years.

Whilst it is of course no fault of the home owners why does that make it the governments fault to find and rectify the issue?

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