A meeting of peak construction industry bodies, insurance professionals, financial, scientific and economic experts today reveals a strong and united resolve to making Australia’s built environment more resilient following the devastating ‘Black Summer’ bushfires.
Jointly convened by Master Builders Australia and the Insurance Council of Australia, the Building Stronger Homes Roundtable was an important initial conversation among industry leaders following the release of the Bushfire Royal Commission report, according to the Australian Institute of Architects (AIA).
AIA CEO, Julia Cambage, said there was a strong desire among attendees to work collaboratively to agree on a path to a better future for Australian homes and buildings.
“After one of the worst natural disasters ever witnessed in our nation, this collegiate, proactive approach by industry will benefit the community and support Australia to build back better and more resilient,” Ms Cambage said.
“We hope to see the same leadership and determination on display at tomorrow’s Building Ministers Forum (BMF).”
“In March, the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) tasked the BMF with considering ‘how to adapt the built environment to future climate and hazard conditions’,” she said.
“This work forms a key part of the Commonwealth Government’s response to the Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements.”
“Eight months on, we look forward to seeing the proposals Australia’s building ministers have prepared.”
Ms Cambage said great design is a critical first step that must then be paired with high-quality construction informed by evidence-based data.
“We need to holistically re-examine where and how we build, and how our regulatory environment operates in the context of a rapidly changing climate,” she said.
“The current regulatory system lacks a strong base of relevant data, a capacity to be agile and follows an outdated approach of implementing extremely slow-moving reforms only after a disaster has taken place.”
“We can and must do better, Australian communities depend on it. Science has shown us what to expect from a changing climate. We must act urgently to mitigate the impacts.
Ms Cambage noted that Australia’s built environment accounts for a quarter of the nation’s carbon emissions so there is significant capacity to affect meaningful and lasting change.
The regulatory reform required in response to the bushfires sits alongside existing reform programs in response to the Shergold-Weir Building Confidence report on quality in construction and work on the Trajectory for Low Energy Buildings.
“The scale of the reform challenge in building regulation is sizeable and we simply can’t afford to have anyone drag their feet on implementation,” said Ms Cambage.
“As the Royal Commission’s report highlighted, there is no time to waste, both in preparing for the next fire season and ensuring we build back better from the last one.”
“Some 5,900 buildings were destroyed and a further 380,000 properties have already been identified as being of ‘high natural hazard risk’, which the Royal Commission’s report warns could ‘grow to 735,000 by 2100’,” she said.
“In addition to a more robust, agile and fit for purpose regulatory system, we also need to ensure that rebuilding doesn’t occur in extreme risk regions.”
Ms Cambage states that safer places of community shelter must be installed now, and the widespread adoption of private bunkers and sprinkler systems should be considered among other urgent and practical measures.
“Resilience must be better defined and include a commitment to net-zero emissions in our buildings and responsiveness to our new climate reality,” she said.
“The message from industry is to get on and do this together with the best interests of the community front of mind.”