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Economics References Committee
13/11/2015
Non-conforming building products

DALRYMPLE, Mr Adam, Director, Fire Safety, Metropolitan Fire Brigade

YAXLEY, Mr Julian, Manager, Economics and Strategic Projects, Metropolitan Fire Brigade

[15:42]

CHAIR: Welcome. Thank you for appearing before the committee today. I invite you to make a brief opening statement should you wish to do so.

Mr Dalrymple : We would like to take this opportunity to thank you for letting us present today. The Metropolitan Fire Brigade is an emergency services organisation that, basically, provides prevention and suppression services to over four million people within the metropolitan fire district of Melbourne. We also publicly advocate for the safety of the community to minimise risks to life and property. We do this by working closely with the community that we respond with so that they can recover from emergencies to build a more resilient community. We have a long history of advocacy. We have led debates on a number of issues, at both state and national level, around smoke alarm legislation, sprinklers in nursing homes and aged-care facilities, tunnel fire safety with sprinklers in road tunnels, and some other programs such as hoarding and notification programs relative to that.

We are taking this opportunity today because of the Lacrosse fire in Melbourne and some of the outcomes of that. That happened nearly 12 months ago—in about two weeks time—and that fire alone could have claimed hundreds of lives if things had turned out a little differently. We were probably really lucky that did not happen on that occasion. What we are saying here is that fire safety really should not be a matter of good luck. The fire started on a balcony from an unextinguished cigarette—an innocuous type of thing, you would think. This set fire to the cladding, and the panelling itself allowed the fire to travel the full extent of the building—23 levels in 11 minutes. That is something we have never, really, seen before. We would say this should not have been allowed to happen.

In 31 years as a firefighter and 20 years as a fire safety specialist I have never seen a fire like this—in my lifetime—and I have made it my business to study fires of this nature, so we can get a better outcome for firefighters in the community. We have grave concerns about the use of non-compliant product and that it may result in disastrous loss of life, and we cannot tell you when the next event is going to happen. This is a modern building, constructed within the last five years. It has been a valid assumption, up until now, that newer buildings are relatively safe and probably safer than old ones. From a fire services perspective, right now, I cannot guarantee that and I cannot, categorically, state that that is a true fact.

One of the things of concern to my organisation and firefighting organisations across the country is the way we plan for these sorts of events. Our practice is based on a long history of analysis of fire behaviour and the way fire reacts in various situations. We take into account the rate of fire spread, the point of origin of the fire and the methods and materials used in the building envelope, and the methods of construction. The presence of a non-conforming or non-compliant piece of material that is applied to a building can invalidate these practices.

Where we have these products, our standard fire-response models can become counterproductive, so it is a critical situation for us. We cannot rely on our normal assumptions, here, because the nature of the fire changes; it is more unpredictable. It may mean that we cannot rescue people. It may mean there is going to be property damage because it does not comply with the Building Code. It is supposed to be contained to one building and should not spread from one building to another. The obvious thing is a huge increase in the risk to firefighter safety and the community, and the vertical community, in this case. As a result of this, we might have to withdraw firefighters from the scene. This is something that is problematic for us to deal with and is, probably, beyond what the community expect—people run out and firefighters are supposed to run in. That is the norm.

With methods of construction, products used should be fit for purpose in real-world applications. In this country, this is having builders comply with the BCA, the Building Code of Australia. That is a national document, as you know. It is underpinned by independent or separate sets of legislation at a state level. Legislation sits underneath and is managed, individually, at the state level. We would say that these fit-for-purpose requirements should be met through product testing and certification that allows both firefighters and the public to manage that. When non-conforming products are used, the risk to the public and firefighters is unknown and the consequences are immeasurable. We would advocate for a national product accreditation screen, which was mentioned at the recent Building Ministers' Forum.

The Lacrosse fire and the resultant post-incident analysis we conducted, which was part of our submission, identified some significant failures in the building regulatory regime that had a direct impact on public safety. We commissioned the CSIRO to do a test on the cladding, because we had the view that it was not a compliant piece of cladding. Our fears were confirmed. The fire services rely on this audit and enforcement process to identify failures in the building regulatory system, in order for us to ensure that unacceptable risks are not passed onto the fire services and community as a whole. We would say there should be stricter adherence and application of the regulations, and that should be paramount, and the regulatory body should be continuously monitoring and educating to assist role clarity where it is needed.

Our investigations have led us down a certain path, and we have asked the Victorian coroner to do an investigation on this fire. This is probably an unprecedented sort of thing, because the coroner normally only does an investigation when there is a death involved. But we thought that the order of magnitude was such that it needed somebody else to look at it, and look at the failings in the system, and possible remedies and changes to legislation. We really asked the coroner to look at the role of the professional building surveyors in the framework, to look at the Victorian Building Authority, and the building industry as a whole as well, and to look at the practices within. The coroner has advised us that he will conduct an investigation. He is waiting on the outcomes of this inquiry that we are here for today, and also the Victorian Building Authority's own investigation into the conduct of the practitioners.

One of the key concerns, I suppose, is that there is a real lack of independence between building practitioners in the Victorian environment. I know this happens more nationally also. We have also put a proposals for reform paper together—which we have tabled today—which looks at a whole range of recommendations at both state and national levels. We are also working with the Victorian Building Authority, looking at how we can address the current risks that have been identified through their audit. We are doing appropriate risk assessments, and we are actually changing our response models to cater for this. That is where we are at this particular point in time. Thank you.

Senator MADIGAN: Is the MFB contacted or engaged, say by Standards Australia, to get your expertise, and experience with building products—for example, on flammability, and on what your firefighters have found when they attend fires on commercial residential premises?

Mr Dalrymple : The Metropolitan Fire Brigade and a range of other organisations are represented by the Australasian Fire Authorities Council, which is AFAC. We have representatives on various Australian standards. We have a representative on one appropriate standard, which is called FP-018. That looks at the testing methods for the combustibility of all systems, and that Australian Standard is gaining a little bit more momentum as a result of the Lacrosse fire.

Senator MADIGAN: With respect to the authorities that the community assumes are there to protect their interests, how proactive would you say they are in this space?

Mr Dalrymple : I know the Victorian Building Authority are doing a fair bit of work around this, and I have it on good authority that they are a little bit concerned that no other authority is doing much about this.

Senator MADIGAN: Would you be able to take on notice: how many interactions or engagements has the MFB had with the VBA over the past five years?

Mr Dalrymple : Lots. We are a member of the Building Regulatory Advisory Committee. We sit on that. That normally meets on a monthly basis, although in the past two years it has been a little bit ad hoc, I would suggest—it probably only met four times in the last two years. That committee is all about looking at product accreditation and practitioners, and the way the practitioners interact; a whole raft of things that can be brought to the table and would normally be discussed at that level, so that we can get some realistic outcomes. It meets next week—the first time for a while.

Senator MADIGAN: Would the MFB have some statistics pertaining to residential and commercial fires that you have identified have been the result of non-conforming, not-fit-for-purpose building products?

Mr Dalrymple : Yes. We would be able to get statistics on that.

Senator MADIGAN: Would you mind taking that on notice and supplying the committee with that?

Mr Dalrymple : We will take that on notice. No problem.

Senator MADIGAN: That would be appreciated.

CHAIR: Mr Dalrymple, your submission notes that there is a regulatory failure—there is a gap in the regulations. In relation to the test for combustibility under the BCA, you say that their requirements for evidence of suitability are not robust, and that fire safety engineers are not always appropriately experienced to assess the use of products. Can you just expand on that, please? What do you mean by the fact that the requirements for evidence of suitability are not robust?

Mr Dalrymple : The BCA does not really give you a mechanism to say what 'evidence of suitability' really is, and so there is no testing mechanism that equates to evidence of suitability. In other parts there might—

CHAIR: So it is left to people to guess what the suitability is?

Mr Dalrymple : Yes, it is. And a lot of the time that relies on expert judgement. That might be from a practising fire safety engineer who is registered, but might not have a lot of experience in the testing regime. That is one of the failings of the system as we see it. If you have somebody suitably qualified, they also need a fair amount of expertise in the testing field to produce documentation that would satisfy evidence of suitability.

Senator MADIGAN: From evidence I have heard presented to the committee today, and from reading many of these submissions, it seems that we have a lot of different 'regulatory bodies'. But it seems to me that we are experiencing systemic regulatory failure. Do you think that is too harsh an observation?

Mr Dalrymple : From a Victorian perspective, I would have to say it is not a harsh observation. We have had a number of ombudsman and VAGO reports into the building regulatory framework in Victoria, and they have basically said that there have been failings. We are five and seven years down the track, and there has been no real improvement from our perspective.

Senator MADIGAN: So as a result of what I term systemic regulatory failure, residential consumers are at risk of suffering from significant loss, emotionally and financially; commercial consumers, factories et cetera, are in the same boat. Then, of course, in your case there are the firefighters that go there. You must have to now be very wary sending your employees into fight a fire.

Mr Dalrymple : That is exactly right. I suppose it is the known known versus the known unknown. In a lot of cases we have to treat it as the known unknown, so our procedures need to meet that requirement.

Senator MADIGAN: Earlier today you would have heard the statement about there being ticking time bombs, so to speak. Would you agree with that statement, that we have got all of these ticking time bombs out there that people are not aware they could potentially face?

Mr Dalrymple : I would have to agree with them, and the terminology is probably right. In our submission, we basically say this is just the tip of the iceberg, but it is the same sort of thing. A consumer has a right to expect that their property is compliant, that it meets the provisions of the building code. Where it does not, it does become a ticking time bomb—and who eventually pays for it? Our experience in Victoria with Lacrosse is that the person who foots the bill is the actual owner. That is unfortunate, but that is the system that is in Victoria, and I do not think that is right.

Senator MADIGAN: In the space of smoke detectors, for instance, I have had some constituents come to me and say that there seems to be some confusion between what smoke alarms you should install. There seems to be some ambiguity there. Have you experienced that?

Mr Dalrymple : There are two different types. There is an ionisation type and a photoelectric type. All fire services in Australia would recommend that you put in a photoelectric type.

Senator MADIGAN: Could you just say that again?

Mr Dalrymple : There are two types that are both compliant pieces of equipment. You have ionisation and photoelectric types. What they do is they both detect fire but at different levels.

Senator MADIGAN: Just for the benefit of the committee, can you repeat that? Which is the one that the MFB recommends?

Mr Dalrymple : Photoelectric.

Senator MADIGAN: Is that one that is wired into your house, or is that on a battery?

Mr Dalrymple : It can be both. I will talk from a Victorian perspective, but most other states are picking this up: we would use a photoelectric smoke alarm that has hardwired and battery backup.

Senator MADIGAN: So it is hardwired and has battery backup.

Mr Dalrymple : Yes, and interconnected. Not so much in Victoria, but the new regulations in New South Wales say that they are interconnected as well. That means if one goes off at one end of the house, they all go off.

Senator MADIGAN: So that would be the preferred option of the MFB?

Mr Dalrymple : Yes.

Senator MADIGAN: Would the CFA in Victoria share the MFB's position?

Mr Dalrymple : Yes; they share the same position.

Senator MADIGAN: Do any of the other fire services around the country share the MFB's and the CFA's position?

Mr Dalrymple : Yes; they do. All fire services do.

Senator MADIGAN: They all do?

Mr Dalrymple : All the ones that are part of the AFAC group do.

Senator MADIGAN: Okay, but we have still got two types there, even though our fire services predominantly recommend that you have photoelectric.

Mr Dalrymple : That is correct. They are both compliant, but one operates better than the other. One will operate in, I suppose, all fire scenarios quicker than the other one, and that is the photoelectric one. That is why we recommend it.

Senator MADIGAN: Are you surprised that the government has not moved to make the photoelectric one mandatory across the country? This would address the issue that you have identified about what is the most reliable for the Australian consumer and provides the best safety.

Mr Dalrymple : They both work.

Senator MADIGAN: I realise that.

Mr Yaxley : They are both effective. The ionising one has a very low-level residual radioactive waste component. That is one of the reasons why we prefer the photoelectric over the ionising one. There are a number of reasons. We have also put a submission in to the Senate inquiry into smoke alarms, where we addressed this in some greater level of detail. We are prepared to provide that to you if you would like a copy of that. There are a number of detailed technical reasons why one is preferred over the other, but they both work and they are both effective.

Senator MADIGAN: They both work, they are both effective—

Mr Yaxley : One is marginally better than the other.

Senator MADIGAN: but the fire services have a preference.

Mr Yaxley : Yes.

CHAIR: When you say marginally, is it not a bit of a deficiency in the ionisation variety that it does not detect the slow, smouldering fires?

Mr Yaxley : That is correct.

Mr Dalrymple : That is correct. That is why the photoelectric is better. It is better for a greater range of fire scenarios: smouldering-type and flaming-type. Ionisation is better for the flaming-type.

Senator MADIGAN: For how long has that been the position, or the better option, let us say? And how long has government been aware of this?

Mr Dalrymple : This has been on the table I would have to say for over five years; probably not 10 years, but it would be over five.

Senator MADIGAN: So for over five years the governments—state and federal—have been aware of the better option?

Mr Dalrymple : Yes, it is on the public record.

Senator MADIGAN: And nothing has happened to date.

Mr Dalrymple : Still nothing, no.

Senator XENOPHON: The Lacrosse Building fire is what has brought this into the public domain. I know that the Australian Building Codes Board says in its submission that:

The Lacrosse fire would not appear to be a case of non‐conforming product, but rather a product being used in a situation for which it was not suitable …

So noncompliance, if you like. As a result of the Lacrosse fire—in which you described real risks in terms of putting those fires out; risks to your own members, to your own personnel—has there been a comprehensive audit, not just in Victoria but around the country, to make sure that we do not have other ticking time bombs like this—cladding on buildings and the like?

Mr Dalrymple : Not that I am aware of. It has only happened, to my knowledge, in Victoria.

Senator XENOPHON: Right. So there was an audit in Victoria. What did that find?

Mr Dalrymple : That audit is very limited in its scope at this particular point in time. It has looked at buildings that are 10 years old, in classes 2 and 9—so basically, where people sleep in buildings, so it is healthcare buildings and residential buildings. It looks at buildings that are of any size. In metropolitan Melbourne there are 170 buildings that have been identified.

Senator XENOPHON: As having potential problems?

Mr Dalrymple : Yes, as having non-compliant panels on them.

Senator XENOPHON: So what is going to happen to those 170 buildings?

Mr Dalrymple : What they do with those is they go through a triage and risk assessment process to see where the panels are and if the panels present a high-life risk or a high-safety risk. Some of the panelling is only decorative in nature and it would not contribute to vertical fire spread, but in other scenarios—like Lacrosse and there are probably six or seven others at this particular point in time—they have cladding well over 50 per cent of the building and they are probably substantial risks.

Senator XENOPHON: What has happened to those with a substantial risk? Are people being warned?

Mr Dalrymple : Yes, they have been referred to the municipal buildings surveyor of the local municipality and that person has responsibility to bring that building back into compliance, whether it be taking the panels off or putting sprinkler systems in. They actually write to the owners and it gives them an opportunity to ask, 'How are you going to fix it?' So it falls back on the owners.

Senator XENOPHON: It goes back onto the consumer then, is that right?

Mr Dalrymple : Yes it does.

Senator XENOPHON: Not the builders?

Mr Dalrymple : No, the notification goes back to the owner.

Senator XENOPHON: So there is no mechanism there. It is the consumer that relies on representation, who will then have to sue either the builder or the importer?

Mr Dalrymple : That is correct. That is the situation in Victoria.

Senator XENOPHON: That is quite unrealistic. Is it your view, following the Lacrosse Dockland fire, that there ought to be a national audit of these building products given what the Victorian audit has identified?

Mr Dalrymple : Yes. That is our position.

Senator XENOPHON: Are you satisfied with the terms, the scope and the actions arising out of the Victorian audit to date?

Mr Dalrymple : I would not say that we are 100 per cent happy with it.

Senator XENOPHON: You may want to take this on notice because of the time constraints: what do you think should be done, given that there has been an identification of buildings that have potentially dangerous products on them. Which non-conforming building products have the greatest potential to increase fire safety risks?

Mr Dalrymple : Of the non-complying ones that we know of, this cladding is probably front of mind for us, because it is on so many buildings. The real issue with this cladding is from a visual inspection you cannot tell it apart from anything else. That is a real problem. It goes back to the certification and the testing regime that might have been applied to that particular product. In many cases where these panels are being used that certification or documentation is not available. The only way you can really tell, to be crude, is to punch a hole in the wall to see if it has polyethylene or mineral fibre content, or if it is a solid panel.

Senator XENOPHON: Tell me if this is an accurate reflection and whether it is fair to say this: is there some irony in the fact that in the 21st century there appears to be a greater fire risk for some of these new products and a risk to your men and women who fight fires—and not just in Victoria, but around the country—as a result of this? It is almost as though—do we have a less safe environment for fighting fires and a less safe environment in terms of fires starting and being hard to extinguish than we did 30 or 40 years ago before some of these products were on the market?

Mr Dalrymple : I would have to agree with that comment. The changing nature of the building envelope has really progressed in the last 10 to 15 years. There has been a whole lot of innovation and there have been a whole lot of new rules around acoustic values, insulation and all of these types of things, so you get lightweight products that meet the intent but their fire safety properties are much higher than the predecessor. Take polystyrene, for instance: it is great for insulation and you can use it in lightweight construction for second stories of domestic homes ,but when that catches fire we know what that is like—it is terrible—and we have evidence of that as well.

Senator XENOPHON: Thanks for depressing me.

Senator MADIGAN: I am just thinking about sprinkler systems, hydrants and the like in commercial buildings, hospitals and schools. I am aware that a lot of that product, if not all of it, is imported. Has the MFB experienced failures with sprinkler systems or non-conforming sprinklers, hydrants or hoses being used in schools, hospitals or commercial buildings?

Mr Dalrymple : In a commercial environment, I can only recall it happening once. That was probably about 10 years ago. It actually injured one of our fire officers. A copper pipe burst because of the amount of heat in the building, and the pipe itself was not protected as it should have been.

Senator MADIGAN: Would that be more of an installation issue?

Mr Dalrymple : It is probably noncompliance as well.

Senator MADIGAN: It was non-compliant?

Mr Dalrymple : Copper pipe has to be covered over; it cannot be exposed.

Senator MADIGAN: So should that have been like a lagged pipe or something?

Mr Dalrymple : Yes. It should have been lagged in vermiculite or something like that.

Senator MADIGAN: Is that pipe normally lagged in the manufacturing process or—

Mr Dalrymple : That is later.

Senator MADIGAN: So that goes to the quality of the installation?

Mr Dalrymple : Yes.

Senator MADIGAN: That is not what we are particularly dealing with. Are you aware of non-conforming, not fit for purpose, sprinklers or hydrants?

Mr Dalrymple : I would not say that they are non-conforming. Like I said before, there has been a lot of innovation in the way sprinkler systems are designed. We work within a performance based environment, and there will be variations to sprinkler system and the way sprinklers are designed and that might be offset by something else in the performance based code. So, where some sort of installation, such as sprinklers—more so sprinklers—are not 100 per cent code compliant, they might be approved because there has been an offset somewhere else. That is allowed and most times is approved. I have not really seen systems that have failed because of that.

Senator MADIGAN: Taking into account your evidence where you have spoken about these new building materials and also taking into account what Senator Xenophon said about whether the buildings are potentially more dangerous than they once were with these new materials, is the MFB confident that the current regulations surrounding sprinklers are taking into account these new materials and their flammability and how quickly they can ignite—as you demonstrated when you talked about the Lacrosse Building going up so quickly? Has research been done in this space that addresses that?

Mr Dalrymple : Individual parts of the building have to comply with all sections of Australian standards and the Building Code. Where we do find that there is noncompliance, we will address that before we let the building be occupied. But, in this case, like Lacrosse, we were not aware of it.

Senator MADIGAN: My question is probably going more to the Australian standard governing what sort of a sprinkler system you have got in a building. I am sure, as you have said, most of them do comply with the standard as it currently is.

Mr Dalrymple : Yes.

Senator MADIGAN: But has the standard kept up with where technology has taken us with these new building materials?

Mr Dalrymple : Currently the code references the 1999 Australian standard for sprinklers. There has been another Australian standard for sprinklers out since 2006 and it is still not referenced. So we have got advances in technology and advances in performance, and it is still not picked up by the current Building Code seven years later. It is probably 10-years-old now.

Mr Yaxley : In the report that we tabled today we actually propose that buildings of a lesser height than that currently mandated should have sprinkler systems. For the very reason that you have raised—that we have had advances in the technology and the types of materials being used—we believe that it should be mandatory that buildings of lesser height should also have sprinkler systems fitted.

Senator MADIGAN: Would you suggest then that it would be a good idea for there to be more regular reviews of the code pertaining to, for instance, sprinkler systems, to make sure that the standards are keeping pace with the advances in building materials?

Mr Dalrymple : There is no doubt about that. If the building envelope is changing you need to have the safety systems to make sure that it still complies with the code. So, yes: if you need to review the standard more often—and I know that standard does meet quite a lot—and there are changes in technology, then unless you keep abreast of that there is no doubt about that.

CHAIR: I just want to clarify something I thought you said earlier, which is that you were concerned that it was only the Victorian Building Authority that is doing the assessment of the usage of ACP in high-rise buildings, and I think you expressed some disappointment that other authorities have not done anything. You mentioned in your submission that there was an audit of 170 high-rise buildings, presumably in metropolitan Melbourne.

Mr Dalrymple : Just in metropolitan Melbourne, yes.

CHAIR: And the ACP was found in a number of buildings there.

Mr Dalrymple : Yes.

CHAIR: Do you have a quantification of that?

Mr Yaxley : The audit is not yet complete; it is still ongoing. We would have six buildings that we have an enhanced response on, because we believe there is a risk there that we need to address from our perspective.

CHAIR: Okay, but is there an appropriate sort of notification process? Do the owners of these buildings know that they have ACP cladding?

Mr Dalrymple : They have been notified. The Victorian Building Authority, when they conduct their audit, actually post the result of the audit on their website, and they notify the municipal building surveyor at the same time. So there is a sort of a process in place whereby people do get notified.

CHAIR: And we are talking about just the CBD of Melbourne?

Mr Dalrymple : Yes. It has not expanded past the CBD yet.

Senator MADIGAN: This problem could also exist, potentially, in these satellite shopping centres, for instance, dotted around Melbourne or Sydney, in the outer suburbs, and other buildings.

Mr Dalrymple : They can. But the audit itself is specific. It is specific to class 2 and class 9 buildings—buildings where people sleep, basically.

Senator MADIGAN: So, this audit you are conducting is of residential buildings in the CBD; we are not talking about office buildings.

Mr Dalrymple : No. It is not picking that up at this point in time.

Senator MADIGAN: But does the MFB have any intention of auditing commercial office buildings in the CBD?

Mr Dalrymple : We do random audits of buildings all the time.

Senator MADIGAN: The cladding issue.

Mr Dalrymple : Yes, and with the cladding issue, if we come across buildings that have a substantial amount of cladding on them we will do an audit on them and determine whether they are compliant or not, and we will refer them back to the authority to go through this particular process.

Senator MADIGAN: Does the MFB have any intention of conducting audits in suburban areas of Melbourne where there are commercial buildings, residential—

Mr Dalrymple : We have actually already undertaken that; we are already doing it. Where we identify buildings that we believe do not comply we refer them.

Senator MADIGAN: Are you aware of whether the Country Fire Authority in Victoria is doing the same in regional centres, like Geelong, Ballarat, Bendigo—major—

Mr Dalrymple : I am not 100 per cent au fait with what process they have in place, but they are—

Senator MADIGAN: Are they aware of what you are doing?

Mr Dalrymple : Yes, they are, most definitely. They have been part of our solution—the Victorian fire services' solution.

CHAIR: Perhaps I could just finish off with one further point in your submission, which is that you believe product testing should occur prior to importation. How would that work? I presume you would be advocating some form of certification and accreditation process so that we could identify conforming products before they come into Australia?

Mr Dalrymple : I know that AFAC, which we are represented by, has had some discussions with our Chinese counterparts about identification of product before it comes in. We are not saying you cannot import products; they just have to be fit for purpose. So, if we are bringing in product, that has to comply with the relevant Australian standard. It should be made to that standard prior to coming to Australia. That is what we are saying.

Senator MADIGAN: As a result of your communications with foreign fire services, are there any common materials that they have said they have had a problem with that we now have here?

Mr Dalrymple : China and Dubai are perfect examples of where this material is prevalent. They have had a number of fires, probably worse than Lacrosse.

Senator MADIGAN: And it is the same source?

Mr Dalrymple : I do not know whether it is from the same source, but it is the same make-up.

Senator MADIGAN: It is the same composition.

Mr Dalrymple : Yes, the same composition.

CHAIR: Perhaps we should be talking more to our international counterparts in this area to avoid these sorts of problems.

Mr Dalrymple : To be frank, I suppose, the authorities in Dubai reacted probably similarly to the way we have here. An event happened, and they asked, 'What was the cause?' They have identified a faulty product and they are going through a process of rectification. I know in some buildings there—and the skyscrapers in Dubai are quite large—they are replacing all the panels. It is a huge cost, but they are going through a process.

CHAIR: How long has this material been available in the construction industry?

Mr Dalrymple : I really could not give you an honest answer. The audit is identifying that it is 10 years or probably more.

Senator XENOPHON: Do you have a role to say through the regulatory authorities, 'Why the hell are you approving this stuff in the first place?'

Mr Dalrymple : Yes, we do. Most fire services have a report-and-consent function in the building approval process, yes.

Senator XENOPHON: But are there products for which you say no and it still gets approved?

Mr Dalrymple : No. Once it has been identified there is no way we will approve it. We have actually refused some applications, which are on the desk right now, saying, 'That's the wrong product; you can't build—'

Senator XENOPHON: But what about the polystyrene type of building products? Have you approved those?

Mr Dalrymple : We are involved only in class 2 to 9—the commercial environment.

Senator XENOPHON: So, for domestic dwellings—

Mr Dalrymple : It is different.

Senator XENOPHON: that is something where you have no rights.

Mr Dalrymple : We have no input whatsoever.

Senator XENOPHON: Shouldn't you have some? A house fire is—

Mr Dalrymple : Well, the house fires present most fire-related fatalities.

Senator XENOPHON: So, you do not have any rights at the moment, in terms of house fires, to veto a product?

Mr Dalrymple : No, we do not.

Senator XENOPHON: Well, that should be rectified, don't you think?

Mr Dalrymple : I think it probably should be, yes.

Senator MADIGAN: Are you aware of where there has been, in Australia or overseas—Dubai or China—a fatality, a loss of life, as a result of some of these materials, such as a fire like the one in Docklands?

Mr Dalrymple : Yes, we are—in Dubai and France.

Senator MADIGAN: Are you able to take on notice for the committee to give us—I do not like to use the word 'statistics'—some empirical evidence, numbers, how many lives have been lost overseas that you know of, and in Australia?

Mr Dalrymple : Yes, we will do that for sure.

Senator MADIGAN: I would appreciate that. Thank you.

CHAIR: Thank you. If there are no further questions, I want to thank you very much, gentlemen, for coming along today and for your very good work in this area. I thank all the witnesses who appeared.

Committee adjourned at 16 : 23