Cladding an emergency: Bandt

By Sean Car

Flammable cladding dominated discussion at the March 7 Residents 3000 meeting, with Federal MP for Melbourne Adam Bandt labelling the issue an emergency. 

Mr Bandt was a surprise inclusion at the Kelvin Club meeting, after Greens State MP for Melbourne Ellen Sandell and Reason Party leader Fiona Patten MP were both forced to cancel at the last minute. 

Ms Sandell arranged for Mr Bandt to attend in her absence and he provided residents with a very frank and detailed account of his take on some of the main issues affecting the CBD – being cladding, homelessness and the West Gate Tunnel project. 

The issue of flammable cladding has risen to prominence again in recent months following a fire at Neo 200 apartments on Spencer St, as well as February’s Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) ruling in relation to the 2014 Lacrosse fire in Docklands. 

In the decision, handed down on February 28, VCAT judge Ted Woodward found the builder LU Simon primarily liable, but ordered the architects, building surveyors and fire engineers to reimburse the builder almost all of the damages awarded to apartment owners. 

While the decision was a positive outcome for owners’ corporations (OCs), it didn’t help to answer the question as to who should ultimately be responsible for replacing the cladding on other apartment buildings. 

In directly addressing this issue at the meeting, Mr Bandt stressed that residents couldn’t afford to wait any longer for the next emergency to occur.

“We know there is unsafe cladding on buildings and we’re seeing it again recently. What galls me is that I feel it is being left to owners, residents, tenants to fix it. There is a bit of buck passing going on,” he said.

“We want government to step in and fix the problem and then government can work out how to recoup the costs from the people afterwards. If it turns out that there has been mistakes from some people and maybe it’s even owners’ corporations that should be involved in fixing the problem then that can all be sorted out down the track.”

“The immediate number one priority has to be to get the flammable cladding down and we can’t wait for courts to determine which particular party is responsible for that in a legal process as that could take years.”

“This is ultimately a failure of government and developers together, because it’s been driven by making money by using substandard products. But it’s been a failure of government regulation as well. I think that the idea of leaving it to the residents to chase and sue multiple parties is completely wrong. It’s completely wrong.”

While some residents questioned whether taxpayers should be slugged with the cost of replacing the cladding, Mr Bandt said that the “risk to life” posed by flammable cladding called for an urgent response.  

Homelessness was another key focus of Mr Bandt’s presentation, with the Greens MP calling on the government to build more affordable housing on existing public housing sites in neighbouring CBD suburbs. 

He mounted the case that large car parks at existing public housing sites in areas such as Carlton and Fitzroy could be moved underground to make way for new buildings as a means of getting helping more people get off the CBD’s streets. 

“We haven’t had a large-scale build of public housing since the 1960s,” Mr Bandt said. “As a result, we have 82,000 people on the waiting list for public housing and rental is just unaffordable for these people.” 

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