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Economics References Committee
14/07/2017
Non-conforming building products

EDWARDS, Mr Alan, Federal Safety Commissioner, Office of the Federal Safety Commissioner

[09:30]

CHAIR: Welcome. I remind officials that the Senate has resolved that an officer of a department of the Commonwealth or of a state or territory shall not be asked to give opinions on matters of policy and shall be given reasonable opportunity to refer questions asked of the officer to superior officers or to a minister. This resolution prohibits only questions asking for opinions on matters of policy and does not preclude questions asking for explanations of policies or factual questions about when and how policies were adopted.

Mr Edwards, thank you for appearing before the committee today. I invite you to make a brief opening statement, should you wish to do so.

Mr Edwards : I do. Thank you, Chair. I think it is important to clarify the role of my office to help give some context as to where I and my office might be able to contribute somehow, in some way, to this problem. Firstly, I will pay my respects to the traditional owners of the land on which we meet. I pay my respect to their elders past and present.

Thank you for inviting me to appear before this committee. As I mentioned, I would like to explain the roles and responsibilities of the Office of the Federal Safety Commissioner to help explain the extent to which I may be able to help play some role in addressing the problem of non-compliant use of building materials under the National Construction Code and cladding in particular.

The first key point is that, as the Federal Safety Commissioner, under the legislation my key role is to administer the work health and safety accreditation scheme, which is designed to reduce workplace fatalities and incidents that tragically continue to remain at too high a level.

The establishment of my role is not a new thing. It goes back to 2005. It came out of the Cole royal commission. On Senator Carr's point earlier, I want to emphasise that the Federal Safety Commissioner is not a new office. We have been around for 12 years making, I think the evidence shows, very significant improvement to reducing injuries and fatalities in workplaces in the building industry. It arose from the Cole royal commission, which found that the rate of fatalities and injuries on building sites was unacceptable.

My office has expertise in workplace health and safety on construction sites, but we have no history or expertise in the regulation of building design, engineering, planning approval, material procurement processes and certifier processes for signing off on building materials and construction. That is a completely separate professional and regulatory field, which I am afraid we have no expertise in.

The second key point is that the Office of the Federal Safety Commissioner is not a regulator. States and territories, of course—under the Constitution and through their legislation—are the ones who would administer both work health and safety legislation and the state building laws, which give effect to the National Construction Code at the state level. My office, for example, has no power to issue fines, stop-work notices or infringement notices, or to take matters to court. To leverage its purchasing power, the Commonwealth requires the highest standards of workplace health and safety from head contractors undertaking those Commonwealth-funded projects. Only builders and constructors with accreditation through me can enter into head contracts for Commonwealth-funded projects, subject to certain thresholds—generally those above $4 million.

The third and related point is that the power of my office is limited just to those companies that choose to become accredited. It is voluntary but, as I said, it is essential if you want to undertake Commonwealth-funded work. It is an opt-in scheme for companies that wish to undertake Commonwealth-funded work, and I have no power to require companies to sign up. There are currently about 420 accredited companies. To put that in context, Master Builders, for example, represent more than 33,000 building industry participants. Having said that, the FSC-accredited companies, over which I do have some power, undertake perhaps 30 to 50 per cent—that is my best estimate—of industry turnover.

The final point, also for context, is that my office is a very lean organisation, to put it mildly. I only have 25 staff. The vast majority of my funding goes into site audits. We undertake about 400-plus one- or two-day building site audits where we are looking at the health and safety of workers on site and ensuring companies have appropriate safety systems and practices in place. Those audits are undertaken by federal safety officers who are contracted technical experts in workplace health and safety and whose roles are defined under legislation. The evidence suggests that fatalities and injuries reduce as a result of the work we do, and I think everyone would agree that it is important that that work is not diminished.

Notwithstanding these limits on my functions and powers, I think there are ways in which I can contribute. As you are aware, there is a new function that was provided with the passage of the ABCC legislation which assists with the compliance with performance specifications of building materials under the National Construction Code. To explain that distinction, the National Construction Code, of course, is about the non-compliant use of materials more so than non-conforming products. For my accredited companies, the big lever I have is that the loss of that accreditation would have a massive commercial impact and, for many accredited companies, would mean the end of the business if they could no longer undertake Commonwealth funded work. So the single biggest thing that I think I can contribute to this problem is having that lever—that threat—and I think that lever is more effective, perhaps, than regulatory consequences.

The first thing that I did immediately on passage of that legislation was to make compliance with the National Construction Code a condition of accreditation for all accredited companies, so those accredited companies now risk losing the right to undertake Commonwealth funded work should they fail to comply with the performance specifications of building materials under the NCC. The second thing that I did was I modify the model clauses, so all Commonwealth agencies should now be using new contract clauses and tender documentation clauses that require companies to ensure that their materials comply with the National Construction Code.

These changes have created a powerful imperative for companies to ensure that their due diligence processes mean that they are unlikely to run into a problem with losing accreditation through my office. I have had a range of discussions already, which I am happy to talk about. Over time, I am hoping that we may be able to assist companies—with our accredited companies strengthening that culture of compliance. We will continue to monitor the work being done by the subject matter experts through the Building Ministers' Forum and the state and territory regulators and continue to look to see what further opportunities we can identify to leverage the work of my office.

I will just talk about one thing that I think we might be able to do fairly quickly. I am pleased to note that state regulators are undertaking audits in a number of jurisdictions of external cladding on building materials. I think there is an opportunity, for example, for us to understand and to know which companies are found to have cladding on materials that do not comply with the National Construction Code. What I am suggesting is that we ask companies to notify us if they have those adverse or those potentially non-compliant materials on those buildings so that we can ensure that, if those companies fail to rectify the problems, we can bring the levers that I am talking about to bear. That is one example where I can see that we can—

Senator XENOPHON: How do you actually do that? In practical terms, how do you do that? I ask that because the CFMEU have given evidence that they do not want their workers to be putting up material that could potentially be non-compliant, could potentially be hazardous and, if there is a fire, could potentially be fatal to the occupants inside that building. In practical terms, how do you ensure compliance, given that there is some material that is allowed through our borders because it can be used on single- and double-storey buildings but cannot be used in high-rises? I am just trying to grapple with how, in practical terms, you can ensure that compliance.

Mr Edwards : 'Grapple' is the word I would use to explain the journey that I have been through on this as well. There are two aspects to it, isn't there? There is: during the construction phase, is the regulation through the certifier process—the design, approval and planning process—adequately ensuring that cladding is only used in a compliant way? You were talking about the proper cladding used from the fourth floor upwards et cetera. I think we can see that the answer is no.

Absolutely that is a problem that needs to be fixed. The extent to which my office as a work health and safety specialist can somehow second guess or come in over the top of state regulators as part of that process is highly problematic. During the construction phase more needs to be done with the materials, absolutely, and that brings in supply chain issues, regulatory issues, certifier arrangements and a whole range of issues. The fact is that, as the CFMEU mentioned, we probably have a large number of buildings out there at the moment with cladding that is non-compliant. The only way to test that is through an audit by, I would suggest, regulators and that appears to be the direction they are moving in—which I applaud. While I do not have the expertise to be able to test cladding or cover the whole industry—I do not have the legislative powers or the expertise—what I can do is to add some weight to ensure that, when these things are identified, my accredited companies rectify them.

CHAIR: I note from the fact sheet that you have issued that one of your functions is 'auditing compliance with national construction code performance requirements in relation to building materials'.

Mr Edwards : That is right. That is a new function that was provided with the passage of the ABCC act in December last year.

CHAIR: How are you going with that?

Mr Edwards : Yes, as I said in my opening statement, I do not have any legislative powers that approach what the states or territories do—they have the constitutional responsibility. I know it sounds like buck-passing, but the fact is the test for me is how can I do what I can with what I have to make a contribution. What I can do is limited to accredited companies—they are the only ones I have any influence over.

CHAIR: Your audits are conducted by your federal safety officers—

Mr Edwards : Yes. They are WHS specialists—not building code or material specialists.

CHAIR: Are they are equipped to do the training that is now a function of your office?

Mr Edwards : No, they are not. They are not equipped. I do not have the resources or the expertise. As I say, I have 25 people but, as you can imagine, there are thousands of building approvals, and the legislative responsibility rests with the states and territories. So the question for me was to look at the policy intent and my understanding of the policy intent was to identify ways in which I can leverage the influence I have—which is determined by the rest of my legislation—to try and make a contribution. What I would be doing, for example, would be to identify noncompliance where the subject-matter experts have identified shortcomings to do with my companies. That is where I can step in.

CHAIR: Let me be clear on this: you are an agency that has been given a responsibility to perform a function but you do not have the resources or the technical capacity to perform that function.

Mr Edwards : Performing that function is going to be defined by all of my legislation and so the monitoring I will be doing has to be necessarily limited to the accredited companies. They are the only ones under the legislation I have any influence over, and the auditing I will be doing will be in response to problems identified by the regulators in the states and territories. So I will be auditing any noncompliance identified by others and auditing the responses those companies undertake.

CHAIR: So you will be doing reactive auditing, rather than proactive.

Mr Edwards : Correct. The suggestion was that the Commonwealth should—this is a policy question, and so I need to be a bit careful here—set up some body that would take over or duplicate or somehow replace the roles of the state and territory regulators in building-approval processes, including materials. That is a major policy question and, if that were to happen, a very large agency would need to be established.

CHAIR: The legislative intent behind the amendment last year appears to me to be clear on the surface: that you are to audit compliance with the NCC performance requirements in relation to building materials within the scheme.

Mr Edwards : The policy intent is a question for others, but it is a question I have looked into myself. I have weighed it up through discussions with the policy agency, et cetera, and looked at it in the totality of my legislation. I will just give you an example, which to me characterises that function as: 'How can I use the powers, responsibilities and expertise I have got, leveraging that to be one part of the solution?' I should point out that in the passage of the ABCC legislation, for example, it was not just the FSC that got new roles. There were changes made to the whole of government procurement through the Department of Finance. The Australian Building and Construction Commission got some functions, as I understand, in relation to the Australian standards for building materials.

I can only talk about my little bit. My evidence to you is that my assessment of the policy intent is to do what auditing and monitoring I can do within the context of the totality of my legislation and within resources I have got. I do not mean that to sound as though I do not think this is absolutely, seriously concerning problem—it totally is. I just being up-front with you about what I can do.

CHAIR: To add to the complexity, you are located within the Department of Employment?

Mr Edwards : I have separate statutory roles and responsibilities under legislation, but the staff who support me and I are technically Department of Employment officials.

Senator KIM CARR: Why aren't you Department of Industry, Innovation and Science?

Mr Edwards : Work health and safety, including the building industry, rest in the Department of Employment.

Senator KIM CARR: The Building Ministers' Forum is through the department of industry, building standards in the department of industry and the scientific agencies are in that department.

Mr Edwards : I cannot tell you which portfolio I should be in. All I can tell you is where I am.

Senator XENOPHON: He did not make that call.

Senator KIM CARR: I am just asking the question. Have you ever considered this issue about whether you are in the wrong place?

Mr Edwards : For example, Comcare is in the employment portfolio and the Australian Building and Construction Commission is in the employment portfolio.

Senator KIM CARR: You are a bit late on the Comcare business. This is our concern here. You actually prevent accidents, isn't? That is what your job is to do?

Mr Edwards : Yes, before the event approaches to safety on building sites. Work, health and safety rests with the Department of Employment.

CHAIR: How many audits have you conducted in the last seven months?

Mr Edwards : Of building materials?

CHAIR: Yes.

Mr Edwards : None, senator. As I say, we are—

Senator XENOPHON: None for building?

Mr Edwards : We have conducted around 200 site audits, looking at our core functions, which are workplace health and safety.

Senator XENOPHON: For the history of this, this particular power that you have got, in terms of requiring you to audit the performance requirements of building materials, was something I negotiated with the government. There was an expectation that it would be something that would be used. It is a power that you have that ought to be used. I am sorry, Chair, to have interrupted. But given what occurred with the Grenfell Tower tragedy, where so many lives were lost, has that spurred your office to undertake audits of building materials?

Mr Edwards : We do not have the expertise to do that nor do I have the power over 99 per cent of the industry.

Senator XENOPHON: For new buildings, you could, couldn't you?

Mr Edwards : No. The only leverage I have is to stop companies tendering for Commonwealth funded works. For those companies, the question is how far I can go.

CHAIR: I think Senator Carr has a follow-on question.

Senator KIM CARR: That is exactly the point. You have suggested that if the Commonwealth is to intervene in this issue, that there are limited constitutional matters. Clearly, your office has been established. It has demonstrated there is a head of power. That is not being challenged; it has been there for 12 years. It is there to deal with Commonwealth procurement in Commonwealth buildings and to enforce the Building Code. Is that correct?

Mr Edwards : No.

Senator KIM CARR: Explain to me why it is not.

Mr Edwards : Well, the new function relates to that—that is correct.

Senator KIM CARR: That is right.

Mr Edwards : It was established to enforce best practice safety on building sites where the Commonwealth is funding it.

Senator KIM CARR: Yes, where Commonwealth money is involved.

Mr Edwards : That is right. It is leveraging Commonwealth procurement.

Senator KIM CARR: The question is: why can't the Commonwealth use your office to enforce building standards on Commonwealth procured buildings?

Mr Edwards : As I outlined in my opening statement, if the Commonwealth wanted to do that, it would mean setting the Commonwealth up to do so—and this is a bigger policy question, so I will just need to be a bit careful. If the Commonwealth wanted to go down that path of setting itself up as an alternative body to assess what building certifiers do on sites at the moment through state and territory governments—if it wanted to set itself up to do that—my view would be that it would not be through an occupational health and safety agency. It would be setting up an agency that had specialist expertise in that area. Secondly, the suggestion that we should just give up on the legal regulators here, the states and territories—which to me is the main game, working with them as the Building Ministers' Forum is doing—and set up an alternative or duplicative regulatory approach through the Commonwealth could raise a few policy concerns.

Senator KIM CARR: I have asked you a policy question and you have responded. That is perfectly reasonable. But the question remains, though, whether your office would need to be transformed to fulfil a function. It may be that this committee chooses to recommend action of that type.

Mr Edwards : I think it would be a new office completely if you want to go down that path, to be honest.

Senator KIM CARR: That is right. But the point is that you are responsible for the administration of Commonwealth funded projects and ensuring the operations of the building standards in regard. to those projects. Is part of your function or not?

Mr Edwards : The new function relates to the performance requirements of building materials under the National Construction Code. The use the Lacrosse fire as an example, that would appear to be a case where non-compliant use of external cladding has contributed to the fire. That would be an example.

Senator KIM CARR: But it is within your power. Under the existing arrangements, you are very much a paper tiger.

Mr Edwards : I certainly do not have the resources to be able to be out in the field, testing cladding or—

Senator KIM CARR: You do not have the resources, you do not have the powers and you do not have the capability.

Mr Edwards : Correct. So how can I best use what I do have is—

Senator KIM CARR: You have a policy here where you suggest that this is an opt-in scheme for companies that wish to undertake Commonwealth-funded work.

Mr Edwards : That is a fact, yes.

Senator KIM CARR: But that is what it is. It amounts to a voluntary scheme of goodwill for people who want access to Commonwealth contracts.

Mr Edwards : That is right. The only power the Commonwealth has in this area is to leverage its own procurement.

Senator KIM CARR: You have done no audits to test whether or not this goodwill is actually exercised, in reality, by people actually complying.

Mr Edwards : The threat of the loss is really the only lever I have, so to take away the power of the business to undertake—

Senator KIM CARR: Yes.

Mr Edwards : So how do I best leverage that?

Senator XENOPHON: Can I just clarify this, which is just strictly supplementary:

The National Construction Code (NCC) provides the minimum necessary requirements for safety, health, amenity and sustainability in the design and construction of new buildings (and new building work in existing buildings) throughout Australia.

Is that right?

Mr Edwards : That is correct, yes.

Senator XENOPHON: I am just reading what its instructions are.

Mr Edwards : Yes, absolutely.

Senator XENOPHON: You have got a power to audit compliance for that.

Mr Edwards : No, the power I have is to audit compliance of building materials. The actual wording is the performance specifications of building materials under the National Construction Code. It is not the whole National Construction Code.

Senator XENOPHON: But it is auditing compliance with National Construction Code performance requirements in relation to building materials—

Mr Edwards : So it would pick up cladding, for example.

Senator XENOPHON: But you have not actually done any auditing of cladding on buildings.

Mr Edwards : No, that is correct. The only point I can make is that I would not have the expertise or the resources to duplicate what the state regulators are doing.

Senator XENOPHON: But can't you ask the government and say, 'I need some expertise and I need the resources. I might have to contract people who are experts in order to do an audit.'

Mr Edwards : Ultimately, all I can tell you is what I am able to do at the moment. It is a bigger question for the government, perhaps.

Senator KIM CARR: That is fair enough. You cannot ask the officer about government budgetary decisions. I just need to know what is required. If we want to recommend that the Commonwealth actually do something—as distinct from pious statements in a bill, which is what we have got at the moment—we need to actually know what needs to be done to support the agency. The problems are (1) it is in the wrong place, (2) it has no money and (3) it has no expertise. I would suggest the other problem is that it is a voluntary scheme.

Mr Edwards : They are all my points, exactly.

Senator KIM CARR: That is the evidence we have been given. It has no powers to fine. It has no capacity to stop malpractice and no capacity for stop-work notices or infringement notices. You cannot take matters to court. It is a bloody paper tiger.

Mr Edwards : And no Commonwealth agency would have those powers under the Constitution is my understanding.

Senator KIM CARR: That is the real question—whether or not that is the case.

Mr Edwards : That is for us.

Senator KIM CARR: I am not a constitutional lawyer but I would suggest you are not either, Mr Edwards.

Mr Edwards : No, I am not either.

Senator KIM CARR: The point I am raising with you is that if the Commonwealth is able to legislate in regard to its own functions, your powers stem from the capacity of the Commonwealth to enforce regulations in regard to its own spending.

Mr Edwards : Yes, in the same way that the ABCC is established.

Senator KIM CARR: That is right; that is the principle. I cannot see why that cannot apply to your office being used for Commonwealth funded projects in regards to fire safety.

Mr Edwards : That is right. All I can do is reiterate that I certainly, within my 25 staff and within the limited influence I have, made the pragmatic decision I have in response to this new function—to rely on reports from the regulatory authorities and to use my powers appropriately.

Senator KIM CARR: Which we have demonstrated are not worth a dob of glue. Right around the country, they are not worth a dob of glue. We have discovered; right across this country, that they have buck passed this issue for years and, frankly, it is not satisfactory; that is why the Commonwealth does need to intervene.

Mr Edwards : And I think the Commonwealth is involved through the building ministers forum and other processors—

Senator KIM CARR: They are going to get another mirror out and have another look into it. How many more years are we going to have to wait before we get any response from them?

Mr Edwards : All I can tell you is what I am able to do.

Senator KIM CARR: You have done that very well, thank you.

CHAIR: I was a little bit surprised by your opening statement when you said that from January this year there is a requirement that has taken effect that contractors need to include to meet the performance specifications of the NCC to have a Commonwealth contract. That is the law. For that to have only recently become a contractual obligation seems to me to be a bit overdue to say the least.

Mr Edwards : I would say not because I never had any function in that area until the legislation changed in December. My function was solely around work health and safety of workers on building sites, so that would be my response to that. I would urge you not to dismiss the power of that change to the accreditation conditions. I genuinely am seeing a change in behaviour from accredited companies who are extremely focused now on their due diligence processes and on how they can improve.

Senator KIM CARR: Has anyone lost their accreditation?

Mr Edwards : Yes, just last week in fact.

Senator KIM CARR: Which one was that?

Mr Edwards : I am not going to reveal that, sorry.

Senator KIM CARR: What is the point?

Mr Edwards : It is not to do with the Building Code but to do with work health and safety—not meeting our best practice work health and safety standards. It does not mean that they are breaching state legislative requirements; it means they not meeting our best practice requirements despite all efforts. So we do. That threat for companies, as I say, is such a massive threat—

Senator KIM CARR: Is that the only one?

Mr Edwards : There was another one in the past before my time. The reason there are not more losing their accreditation is because it would be the end of the company. I have CEOs and boards—

Senator KIM CARR: Excuse me, authority? You say 'the end of the company' and that is the prohibition on acting? You said that would be the end of the company and that was why there has not been more. Did I understand you correctly?

Mr Edwards : When a CEO or a board find that their accreditation through me is at risk, they will pull out all stops to avoid the loss of accreditation. That is what I am saying.

Senator KIM CARR: But there are two that have lost accreditation.

Mr Edwards : There were two that, despite all of that, were not able to meet the work health and safety standards.

Senator KIM CARR: But you will not name them?

Mr Edwards : I do not name them because it would put a commercial detriment on them, which is not because they are breaking laws but because they are not meeting the Commonwealth best practice standards.

Senator KIM CARR: This is a government that does not mind throwing people's names around quite willy-nilly when it comes to the building industry but you will not name two companies that have lost their accreditation, which you have indicated is incredibly serious and incredibly difficult.

Mr Edwards : I respect the commercial-in-confidence requirements of my office.

Senator XENOPHON: What are the public interest requirements of your office?

Mr Edwards : Again, the distinction I am drawing is this company has not broken any laws so I am not going to put a company and its workers' future at risk by naming it.

CHAIR: Is that your decision, Mr Edwards, or are you constrained by some other consideration?

Mr Edwards : I believe I am constrained by legal considerations in terms of commercial-in-confidence. It would be a different matter, as you know, with the ABCC, for example. They have named a company or the minister—

Senator KIM CARR: I will just say to you that the Senate does provide you with full legal privilege, so it is not a legal question; it is whether or not you feel that you cannot for other, administrative reasons. But it is not a legal question.

Mr Edwards : I make a couple of points. Firstly, it is unrelated to this committee's work. It is nothing to do with non-conforming products; it is related to a different matter altogether, which is the Commonwealth's best-practice requirements in relation to work health and safety. Secondly, as I am saying, it is not that the company has done anything wrong by any law, so should they suffer a commercial detriment through me publicly naming them? The fact is that they have not met a higher standard, which is the standard we require. Finally, I think I am constrained through commercial-in-confidence considerations legally.

Senator KIM CARR: But that is a reason to claim privilege.

Mr Edwards : Again, as I said, it is unrelated to the work of this committee.

CHAIR: Would you like to table your opening statement?

Mr Edwards : Yes, I am happy to.

Senator XENOPHON: I want to understand this. You said in your opening statement that you conduct approximately 400 workplace health and safety audits for building sites. Building sites can vary; a building site in the early stages depending on where it is in the construction phase. They can be very different creatures. It is almost as though you could have three or four audits of an individual building sites and have them tell you you could build different things depending on the stage of construction, correct?

Mr Edwards : That is right, although we are auditing companies more than the building sites themselves. But your point is right.

Senator XENOPHON: I understand you have budget constraints. Of those 400 workplace safety audits annually, what percentage would be actual building sites? I am not talking about home building sites. Of the commercial building sites that are within your purview, is that one per cent, two per cent, three per cent? What percentage would it be?

Mr Edwards : I will get you a precise answer about the split between civil works and commercial works on notice, but, from memory, it is about 40 per cent civil, 60 per cent commercial.

Senator XENOPHON: But how many building sites would there be each year that are commercial building sites that would be covered under the code? There would be thousands, would there not?

Mr Edwards : Within my remit? There would be thousands, and we do not look at every project. We do a sample of company building sites. We generally look at a minimum of one audit per annum per accredited company.

Senator XENOPHON: Do you give them advance notice that you are auditing them or do you just go on the site?

Mr Edwards : No, we give them advance notice because we are about testing the company's systems and the practices on site. Often these are two-day audits. They are lengthy audits.

Senator XENOPHON: I am always nervous about giving advance notice in some cases. I understand what you have said, but in some cases doing a spot check might reveal things that would not be revealed if you gave them advance notice. Do you acknowledge that?

Mr Edwards : Is this in relation to work health and safety rather than building materials?

Senator XENOPHON: I suppose it relates to both. For work health and safety do you give advance notice as well?

Mr Edwards : Yes, we do. The point is that we are not a regulator. We work collaboratively with companies to achieve a much higher standard of best practice. I acknowledge what you are saying.

CHAIR: I come back to my earlier question about your model clauses. I meant no criticism of you in that respect—you have only recently acquired that jurisdiction—

Mr Edwards : None taken.

CHAIR: but that does not change the fact that, up to your intervention, Commonwealth contracts did not require the construction companies to observe the National Construction Code.

Mr Edwards : In fairness, there are whole-of-government requirements that are outside my area that through the Department of Finance administer whole-of-government purchasing requirements.

CHAIR: But you have seen the gap in the existing system.

Mr Edwards : I did not see this gap. The point I am making is that my understanding is that companies undertaking Commonwealth-funded work do need to comply with Commonwealth and state laws and that there are broader conditions that are arranged through the Department of Finance. My little bit is not the whole gamut of Australian government requirements.

CHAIR: It adds an extra remedy to the Commonwealth in terms of contractual obligations.

Mr Edwards : that is right. I am just making the point that I think there was a requirement to adhere to laws, including building laws, prior to this.

CHAIR: Of course, but this seems like it would have strengthened the Commonwealth's hand in addressing problems.

Mr Edwards : I agree.

Senator KIM CARR: The new Commonwealth procurement guidelines do actually require the application of and compliance with Australian standards. That is 10.37. I am wondering if you have given any thought to the proposition that you might actually be called upon as an independent assessor of whether or not that has actually occurred.

Mr Edwards : The answer is no. In terms of Australian standards, it is a difficult distinction, but it relates to the difference between non-conforming materials and non-compliant use. The function I have been given is non-compliant use of materials under the National Construction Code. It is possible—not desirable, obviously—that a material might contain asbestos, for example, and fail to meet the Australian standard but would not raise a concern under the National Construction Code.

Senator KIM CARR: Yes, it is a problem. Your fact sheet mentions coordination of the work in industry and government of the various reference groups that occur. Do you have any coordinating role between the Building Codes Board and the ministers forum at all? Do you have any relationship with either of those bodies?

Mr Edwards : No, I have no role in them at all. I would think the Department of Employment and the Department of Industry would.

Senator KIM CARR: Yes, of course, but I wondered whether you have any relationship with those at all. They do not call on your advice at all in any of those commissions?

Mr Edwards : No, they do not.

Senator KIM CARR: Do you might if we put a few questions on notice? We have run out of time.

Mr Edwards : Okay.

CHAIR: Thank you very much for appearing before us.