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Transcript of doorstop interview: Sydney: 19 July 2017: cladding roundtable; Grenfell disaster; Home Affairs Ministry; resignation of second Greens Senator

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SUBJECTS: Cladding roundtable, Grenfell disaster; Home Affairs Ministry; resignation of second Greens Senator.

BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Good morning everybody. I'm here today talking to sprinkler fitters from the fire protection industry about what needs to be done to make sure that the terrible scenes we saw in Grenfell towers in the UK won't happen here. Today Luke Foley and I have both addressed and listened to about 100 sprinkler fitters and experts who everyday try and keep buildings safe, so that we don't see a repeat of the tragedy at Grenfell towers in Sydney and around NSW.

But what Luke and I have heard today is greatly concerning. It is the view of the men and the women who work in the fire protection industry that it is not a matter of ‘if’ the tragedy of Grenfell towers could occur in Australia, it's a matter of ‘when’. They were unanimous that there is a problem about consistency across installation of fire protection, certification of fire protection systems, untrained, unskilled and unlicensed people signing off on work which will lead to potentially horrendous consequences. There is a lack of national consistency, there is concern that in NSW that the regulations are not even up to the standards of other states.

There is a Senate committee currently looking at all of the issues to do with fire protection, from the importation of dodgy building materials which are flammable and hazardous and don't meet Australian standards; critical installation and certification of fire protection systems.

The Labor Party will be relentless in making sure that we have the best possible standards in the world, it's not just a state issue it's a national issue, and what we've heard today echoes what we've heard all around Australia - that we have got a real concern that it's a matter of ‘when’ not ‘if we could see a tragedy not dissimilar to the shocking scenes we saw in London.

I might ask Luke Foley to say a few words from the NSW perspective and happy to take questions.

LUKE FOLEY, LEADER OF THE NSW OPPOSITION: Thanks Bill. What we've heard this morning from 100 or so sprinkler fitters is truly frightening when it comes to fire safety regulation in our residential and commercial buildings, and what I've heard is that NSW lags the rest of Australia when it comes to standards around fire safety. This is truly frightening for both our residential building sector and our commercial property sector and standards have to lift dramatically and urgently. This ought to be a wake-up call to the NSW Government.

Now I salute Bill Shorten's national leadership in this area and of course Kim Carr is involved in the Senate inquiry that hopefully will lead to some national reform here and higher standards around the country. But I can't stand by here and in NSW when I hear that we are so far behind Victoria and Queensland when it comes to fire safety regulations, and sit on my hands and say it's simply a matter for my federal colleagues.

Now there's been a request here for over two years for the State Government to audit for example, the situation around non-compliance when it comes to that flammable planning material in buildings. No audit is being conducted. And then it's not just fire safety, the entire system of building certification in this state needs to change. When a property developer in Auburn as Mayor can have his Council certify a building that he's developed and then the roof blows off in a summer storm and two hundred and fifty people are left homeless, that tells you the system is rotten and it needs to change.

So we'll work at the state levels to put the pressure on the Berejiklian Government here and we'll work with Bill Shorten who's national leadership in this area is very, very right.

JOURNALIST: Do you support a call in there for nationalisation of some of the fire standards?

SHORTEN: I think there should be national standards absolutely. Now obviously the states have got a lot of say in the building standards but I think it is not beyond the capacity of governments, state and national to work together to create the best practice standards. The pendulum which has swung towards the deregulation of building safety standards has to stop. You can't just leave peoples safety to the market and just hope and fingers crossed that nothing bad happens. We're hearing men who have worked in this industry for thirty and forty years, gravely concerned - shopping centres, aged care facilities, high rise buildings, right now as we speak, don't have adequate fire protection systems. It is greatly disturbing that we have no plan from the national government to restrict the importation of unsafe materials.

This is a government who is focusing on bureaucratic reshuffles in terms of its border protection, but it has no plan to protect our people from the importation of hazardous materials which are then subsequently installed inappropriately, systems that are not certified. But it is alarming to think that as we speak people are under a false confidence that fire protection systems of high rise buildings are all universally just going to work when the sprinkler fitters of Australia are saying they have grave concerns that too many problems are slipping under the radar.

JOURNALIST: Just on another subject, Labor's support for a for a Home Affairs Agency - does Labor support it?

SHORTEN: Well we've got to wait and see the detail. Let's face it, this has been one of the more rushed propositions we've seen in national security. I spoke to the Prime Minister last night, we're not going to unreasonably stop the Government if they want to reshuffle particular departments, but I want to hear from the experts. We've requested approvals from the AFP and ASIO and our security agencies - what do they want. I have to say that in the past when this proposals been looked at I got the very clear impression that our security agencies wanted to concentrate on fighting terror not restructuring departments and changing letter head.

So, we will see what the Government say, we are not going to be unreasonable. Since I have been leader of the Labor Party, I have taken a bipartisan approach on anti-terrorism and the campaign against terrorism. But I want to hear from the experts. I take my advice from the experts on the front-line of fighting terrorism. It's not up to the Government, who looks like they are just trying to keep Peter Dutton happy, give him some more power in order to protect Malcolm Turnbull's job.

JOURNALIST: One of the arguments has been greater cooperation and coordination between the agencies. Do you see a justification in that through this?

SHORTEN: Well if the Government says this, I'll go and talk to the experts, but to be honest if this is a problem then why haven't we heard about it before. Is the Government saying the current system is unsafe. Is the Government saying that there is a big problem now which needs fixing. We will work constructively with the Government but they have announced what they say is the biggest overhaul in 40 years but where is the problem to justify the biggest overhaul in 40 years. Where are the voices of the experts. Now, I expect our security agencies have probably ultimately, signed up to some changes - they would, it's the government of the day. But what is the overwhelming case, if this is the biggest change in 40 years, does that mean that the current system is the biggest problem in 40 years?

JOURNALIST: One of the suggestions is certainly the Attorney-General still having oversight, an integrity role I guess you could say. Are you confident about that being in place - that there is that separation?

SHORTEN: We need to see the detail. Of course, there should be oversight. Whether or not I am confident in this current Attorney-General to be able to head down to the milk bar and get a litre of milk, no I am not.

JOURNALIST: Some comments this morning about immigration could be on a bit of a back-burner. Are you concern about that at all?

SHORTEN: Well, I think your questions are really legitimate. The problem is that no of us have heard the answers. It is sort of like the Government have come up with a solution and now they have got to find the problem to justify the solution. Let's be clear though, if the Government wants to do this, we are not going to necessarily stand in their way but I want to hear from the experts. I'd like to be convinced this is about national security not Malcolm Turnbull's job security.

JOURNALIST: Second Greens' Senator resigned yesterday. Has Labor done all it's checks and balances to ensure that everyone complies with the Constitution?

SHORTEN: Yes, when you're a Labor candidate you are required to confirm your citizenship and you're not a citizen from another country. We don't just rely on someone ticking a box. I understand from speaking to the party administration that if you're born overseas, you have to report that fact and tell the party, and if you have got a parent who is born overseas, then you have to show what steps you have taken. So I am confident, and the party administration reassures me on this point.

Can I just make a comment about the Greens. They need to get their house in order. I feel for the two individuals concerned. They are quite meritorious individuals but I think Australians will say what is going on with the Green political party. Are they ready to be serious political operators, are they up for the job. So I think this sort of inadvertently damages people's confidence, do they know what they are doing, full stop.

Thanks everybody.