Australia

States strike deal on building standards

Australia's building ministers have agreed to pursue nationally consistent building standards. (AAP)

Building ministers from across Australia have agreed to work together on a nationally consistent approach to fixing failures in the construction industry.

State and federal ministers have struck an agreement to pursue nationally consistent building standards as they try to repair a deepening crisis in the construction sector.

But the states are being left on their own to deal with a growing number of problems with existing buildings, including flammable cladding.

Federal industry minister Karen Andrews says the two tiers of government will fund a specialist team to deliver recommendations from a recent report that identified serious failures.

She had offered to fund a similar implementation team in February, but the states rejected it.

Rather than establishing a new team, the states have agreed to draw on the resources of an existing agency, with input from industry players.

The group will be responsible for restoring confidence in the building sector, which is plagued by widespread problems.

Hundreds of existing buildings still have dangerous combustible cladding that need to be replaced, with the industry also dealing with defective and faulty buildings, and soaring insurance premiums.

Ms Andrews said it was a significant first step that all jurisdictions had agreed to work together towards a nationally consistent approach.

But it remains the commonwealth position that it is the states' responsibility to deal with legacy issues, which Ms Andrews said were entirely separate from the future, united work.

"Let me be very clear that leadership does not mean that you are going to take responsibility for the actions of others," she told reporters in Sydney after the meeting.

"I think that today what you have seen is that the federal government has shown great leadership in terms of bringing together the states and the territory for a consistent approach to the building sector, which has not happened before."

Nevertheless, the commonwealth is adamant it will not pick up the tab for any rectification works.

"Clearly, it's up to the states and territories, they have responsibility for building and construction and they will retain those rights into the future."

The ministers also heard from insurers, who want a permanent representative with the Australian Building Codes Board that is going to drive the national approach.

Ms Andrews said insurance agencies should recognise their concerns had been heard.

"We want them now to look at continuing to remain in the market, particularly for professional indemnity for building certifiers, and potentially for new players to come into the market," she said.

Insurance Council of Australia chief executive Rob Whelan said while the agreement for governments to work together was positive, his members were still concerned that delays in making changes could further undermine confidence in the industry.

"Insurers accept they have a key role to play in the risk management process, but the acceptance of risk will depend on appropriate action by the building industry, governments and regulators," he said.

The meeting of ministers cames after Australia's five largest industry groups demanded urgent action on the nation's "patchy and inconsistent" building rules.

The construction industry has called for better enforcement of rules so that cowboy operators are held to account.

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