21st February 2019
Grenfell Tower – the name conjures up untold horror and that disaster happened half a world away. When flammable building cladding was responsible for the spread of fire in an apartment building, and so many died, the shock waves were felt here, and elsewhere in Australia.
Yet our authorities approved that flammable material for cladding purposes here – a really big and bad mistake. Well, that said, this community obviously needed to do something to prevent Grenfell Tower being replicated in Victoria. Was enough done?
Well, no – clearly – because we almost had precisely the same thing happen here in Melbourne. Nobody died but more by good luck than good management. Now, various bodies argue while people are still locked out of their homes and others have gone back to their homes – IN THE SAME POTENTIAL DEATH TRAP. Other similar potential death traps have been identified.
There seems to be debate over responsibility, financial liability and likely disruption in order to fix the problem – but the problem has not gone away and will not go away until firm, decisive and concrete steps are taken. Let’s stop debating.
Looking at rural Victoria we see the same sorts of potential disasters looming every summer, and decisive action is taken. Compulsory orders are issued to landholders to remove fire hazards – in the interest of the whole community – and the cost is borne by the landholder. Failure to comply entails local councils doing the work and recovering the cost, if necessary by attaching them to municipal rates on the property concerned.
The same model should be applied to the potential Grenfell Towers about Victoria – to fire hazards that need to be removed in the interest of the community, and of the fire fighters who will be called on to face the hazards up close when the inevitable happens.
But because government agencies bear a degree of blame (Sovereign Risk) for allowing the hazardous material to be used in the first place, government – on our behalf – can properly be expected to do more than just wield the big rhetoric stick.
There are precedents for governments extending interest-free loans to people facing disaster and we now propose that that principle should be applied to those caught up in the flammable cladding imbroglio. We do not say government should simply pay for the rectification works – we suggest government should lend money, interest-free, over an extended period of maybe ten years, to the owners of the properties concerned, to FIX THE PROBLEM IMMEDIATELY.
Repayments of the loans over time could be attached to the property rates.
There would need to be safeguards against racketeers gouging a share of this honey pot of government money, and rigid control over work and material quality – to avoid another pink batts scandal.
The public purse would not suffer as much as it may seem when the taxes associated with such work are taken into account – but that is not the issue that we concentrate upon. The property owners would actually benefit from the improved value of their assets.
CAA proposes that the time has long gone when further delay can be accepted. No more excuses. Time for firm and decisive action. Time to mobilise the power and the resources of government to prevent yet another Grenfell Tower from happening in Victoria.