Canberrans might have to wait another year before they find out which public buildings contain the potentially combustible aluminium cladding.
ACT building minister Gordon Ramsay said the government would complete its audit of government buildings over the next 11 months before releasing the findings. The timetable on apartment buildings and hotels is less clear still.
Mr Ramsay was speaking as he and other building ministers agreed in Sydney on Thursday that the Australian Building Codes Board will take charge of pushing a set of nationally consistent rules on how building construction is policed.
The rules cover training, licensing, checks on building sites and the appointment and responsibilities of certifiers.
They were recommended 18 months ago by a review led by Peter Shergold, but the industry says states and territories have been inconsistent and piecemeal in making the changes. The result has been a crisis in insurance for certifiers, with one insurance company now pulling out of the sector and others hiking insurance premiums massively.
The biggest threat comes from combustible cladding on apartment buildings, hotels and government buildings. That issue has been left in the hands of individual jurisdictions.
Despite the ACT starting an audit of public buildings more than two years ago to work out which have aluminium composite cladding, few results have been released, and Canberrans are no closer to knowing which buildings outside health contain the potentially dangerous cladding.
In 2017 the government revealed that three Canberra Hospital buildings had combustible cladding, and last year it embarked on a $1 million project to replace aluminium panels at the women and children's building at the hospital.
Minister Mick Gentleman said at the time that the government was reviewing where cladding had been used in a way that was not compliant with building standards and identifying buildings that posed a higher risk than anticipated by the building code.
The review was not focused on cladding that had been wrongly passed off as compliant - because working out whether cladding performed as claimed or contained the materials claimed would mean removal and destructive testing, he said at the time. Such materials are worrying certifiers, who are concerned they could be held liable where a builder installs inferior versions.
ACT Building Minister Gordon Ramsay said this week the audit of government-owned buildings would be completed before July 2020 and then made public.
As to private buildings, on Tuesday, the government said: "The review has commenced with public health and education buildings and will also include apartments, hotels and student accommodation."
But on Thursday, Mr Ramsay's spokesman said the government was asking insurers to pass on information about privately owned buildings. If insurers were unwilling the government would consider other options.
Owners Corporation Network president Gary Petherbridge urged the government to prioritise audits of high-rise residential buildings, which he said posed the highest safety risk.
Mr Petheridge said the government had to be transparent with building owners and the general public, which meant releasing the results of the audits as they came to hand.
The University of Canberra has done its own review and said on Thursday that aluminium composite panels had been used on the health building (Building 28), and on student accommodation buildings Cooper Lodge and UniLodge. But it was non-combustible, and "has been certified by ACT Fire and Rescue as an acceptable solution", so it was judged compliant, the university said.
Combustible cladding was in doorway canopies in building 1 (the chancellery) and in an awning above an entrance in building 5, but it had been judged a low risk and could remain in place.
Other states are well ahead. Victoria has announced a $600 million program to replace the aluminium cladding on 500 buildings, including hotels and apartment buildings, after an audit of 2000 buildings. NSW requires buildings with the cladding to be registered. Victoria, NSW and Queensland have all banned aluminium composite panels with more than 30 per cent polyethylene, according to the Property Council.
The ACT has already introduced some of the Shergold recommendations, including stringent new requirements for certifiers from September 1, and more site checks.
On Thursday federal Industry Minister Karen Andrews said action on cladding already installed on buildings, including rectification, remained the responsibility of the states.
But the Shergold recommendations on construction regulation would be progressed as a priority now states and territories had agreed to the oversight of the Building Codes Board.
An options paper on professional indemnity insurance would be prepared by September, she said, calling on insurers to stay in the market now there was "a pathway to lower their risk profile".
"What the insurance sector has been looking for is a level of certainty that the issues are being addressed and that there will be a unified approach," she said.
"So what we are putting to the insurers is that the state and territories have moved to address the concerns that insurers have raised. We want them now to look at continuing to remain in the market, particularly for professional indemnity and building certifiers."
The Shergold report called not only for a code of conduct for certifiers and more stringent reporting and powers, but also for new laws on conflict of interest, given their commercial relationship with designers, owners and builders.
Master Builders ACT chief executive Michael Hopkins said the ministers' agreement was "a breakthrough that will lead to improved enforcement and compliance with building regulations and standards".