A new independent Building Commission to regulate building standards in NSW; new safety measures proposed to reduce the risk of harmful dust exposure for tradespeople; and a committee hears about the radiation content of… bananas?! Our week In Committees is a revealing read! As always, you can find more information on these and other inquiries on our website.

Committee recommends new independent Building Commission to address building standards crisis

Last week the Public Accountability Committee tabled its interim report into the regulation of building standards, building quality and building disputes. The committee still has work to do examining the building industry in NSW but felt it was important to release a report on its work so far, especially as the committee looked at a bill that is currently before the Parliament.

The report examined the current state of the building industry in NSW, including high-profile building failures such as Opal Tower and Mascot Towers. The report recommended that the NSW Government establish an independent Building Commission and fully implement recommendations from previous key reports on building regulation.

The report also made recommendations about the Design and Building Practitioners Bill 2019, ultimately recommending that the bill be significantly amended and not proceed until there is more consultation with stakeholders. The evidence and recommendations in the report will hopefully assist the Houses to understand the how the bill will operate and what, if any, amendments are needed to strengthen it.

The committee now continues with more hearings. A hearing on flammable cladding will take place at Parliament House on 11 December 2019, where the committee hopes to learn how buildings with flammable cladding can be made safe.

To find out the extent to which flammable cladding covers buildings in NSW, the committee has asked the Government to provide the register of buildings which may contain flammable cladding. The committee has the power to order that the government produce documents but, due to the timing of the upcoming hearing, in this case the committee instead went through the House to order the register. (For more info on ordering documents, see the entry on SO 52 in this publication.)

The register has now been provided but is considered privileged (confidential – able to be viewed by LC members only). The committee argues that the register should be made public and has authorised the Chair, Mr David Shoebridge, to dispute the claim of privilege.

The committee will hold further hearings in the New Year, so stay tuned and check out the inquiry website for updates.

 Safety standards for tradespeople to reduce risk of harmful dust exposure

The Law and Justice Committee has been busy progressing their inquiry into silicosis in the manufactured stone industry, as part of their oversight review of the dust diseases scheme.

On Friday 15 November the committee heard from members of the Australian Engineered Stone Advisory Group, including Caesarstone, Smartstone and WK Quantum Quartz. The committee heard about the accreditation program the Advisory Group is implementing, which they believe will help stonemasons and fabricators to follow the required safety standards when working with manufactured stone, thereby reducing the risk of crystalline silica exposure.

The inquiry will likely continue until early next year.

Ever considered the radiation content of cheese and bananas? Inquiry into uranium mining receives unexpected evidence

This week, the inquiry into uranium mining gathered pace, with its third and final public hearing on Monday 18 November 2019. The committee heard evidence from industry groups and peak bodies, professional associations for nuclear-related fields, union representatives and an energy economist from the University of Queensland.

The evidence unearthed some lesser known facts about human exposure to background levels of radiation from the most prosaic of things, such as cheese and bananas, in the context of a broader discussion about public education about nuclear. Expert evidence from Professor Stephen Wilson from the Centre for Energy Futures, University of Queensland, also offered a fresh perspective on the eponymous HBO miniseries about Chernobyl, a popular culture reference that has exercised some discussion throughout the inquiry. For more on bananas, cheese and reflections on the HBO miniseries, read the transcript.

It wasn’t all fun facts and popular culture – witnesses were examined on a range of critical issues surrounding uranium mining and nuclear power, with strongly held views advanced on both sides of the debate. Evidence touched on many of the considerations highlighted in the issues paper published by the Parliamentary Research Service.

Submissions have now closed, and the committee will report to the House in the first quarter of 2020.

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