Judith Hackitt warns of Grenfell tragedy in Australia
Dame Judith Hackitt, who led the UK government inquiry into Britain’s Grenfell Tower fire, said a similar tragedy was “entirely foreseeable” in Australia and criticised the “foolhardy” comments of politicians who said it could not happen here.
There was a “stark difference” between the urgency shown by authorities in Australia and by their UK counterparts, who had been stung to act by the cladding-related fire in June 2017 that killed 72 people, but Australian politicians could not assume their buildings were safe enough to prevent a similar occurrence, Dame Judith said.
“Although there is concern here about the problem, no one has died – yet,” the veteran engineer said in an interview on Tuesday.
“You need to see that as an opportunity to fix that before someone dies. Because knowing what we all know, such a tragedy is entirely foreseeable here.”
Her report into the Grenfell tragedy prompted the British government to, late last year, commit to all the recommendations she made to improve accountability and the quality of finished buildings. Even in the politically torn UK, there was bipartisan support for legislation due to be passed next year that will require building designs to meet demonstrable safety standards, and contractors to show they have constructed what was designed.
‘Not held to account’
In Australia, state and territory governments have committed to construction reforms proposed by academic Peter Shergold and lawyer Bronwyn Weir last year. They are due to reveal their progress this week.
The use of combustible cladding on residential buildings such as Melbourne’s Lacrosse and Neo200 towers, and the structural failure of newly built towers such as Opal Tower in Sydney, were consequences of a construction industry that was not held to account for what it built, Dame Judith said.
Some Australian politicians said a Grenfell-type fire would never happen in Australia because residential towers were fitted with mechanisms such as fire sprinklers, which Grenfell lacked.
This, however, was “pretty foolhardy behaviour”, Dame Judith said.
“You always look for a reason why it happened to them and couldn’t happen to you,” she said.
“This displacement that says ‘this couldn’t happen to us’ is pretty unhelpful. We simply do not know enough about the quality of our buildings.”