Department on Immigration and Border Protection criticise plan to screen building products

March 31, 2016 - 4:40PM Henry Belot Canberra Times Reporter

The Department of Immigration and Border Protection has distanced itself from calls to provide a greater role in stopping faulty and dangerous building products from entering Australia.

A Senate inquiry into non-conforming building products has revealed government departments have differing opinions on how to improve surveillance of the products.

Submissions from industry groups and unions have highlighted the extent of dangers caused by the products, with many certified overseas with limited oversight.

Last month, authorities warned hundreds of Canberra homes may be at risk of fire due to defective wiring sold between 2011 and 2013. At least 162 kilometres of the cable sold in the territory.

The faulty cable, which was made in China and wrongly certified as Australian compliant, was sold in Canberra at Masters Home Improvement, Project Lighting and Pope's Electrical and Data Supplies.

To address the issue, the federal government outlined an information-sharing option for customs and border protection officials to assist building regulators with compliance and enforcement activities.

In a submission to the inquiry, the department described proposals to search for faulty goods as "difficult and impractical to effectively manage in a border environment".

"The department does not consider the introduction of surveillance and screening at the border to be an effective response to minimising the risk that non-conforming building products pose to the Australian community," the submission said.

"The department considers that the introduction of a border control would be difficult and impractical to effectively manage in a border environment."

According to the submission, border force employees would be unable to determine whether a building product would be used or installed correctly. The department also warned the variety of building products would be difficult to police without specialisation.

"A border control that simply sought to prohibit non-compliant building products would operate as a blunt instrument and could hinder the legitimate value-add processing operations of Australian businesses," the submission said.

The CSIRO has called for surveillance of building products to be applied to all market participants, not just imported products.

"Many building products and materials can be difficult to identify once removed from their packaging and installed, with thermal insulation materials as an example," said a submission.

"In instances where identification is difficult, surveillance, screening and inspection programs should be supported by product testing to verify key performance aspects and identify potential product substitutions."

Master Electricians Australia believe faulty products represent a serious threat to the safety of trade workers, many of whom may not be aware of the dangers.

"The reality is that when a building product is identified as being faulty and made subject to a recall, the existing notification methods will not reach all of the purchasers of the product," their submission said.

But DIBP did support an information sharing regime to allow regulators to effectively target their enforcement activities.

"The department could, in consultation with states and territories, arrange for automatic reporting to be provided on a regular to allow regulators to understand the volumes and sources of particular products of interest," the submission said.

In a submission, Department of Industry and Science secretary Glenys Beauchamp said her agency would continue to discuss the proposal with authorities.

"This would not replace work being undertaken by states and territories, but provide additional information to help them target their enforcement and compliance activities," she said.

"This option will be pursued with the state and territories through the working group of senior officers established by the Building Ministers' Forum."

Department on Immigration and Border Protection criticise plan to screen building products