Question Time: Mount Gambier Hospital

Wednesday September 25, 2019

Mr BELL (Mount Gambier) (14:36): My question is to the Minister for Infrastructure. Can the minister guarantee my community that the Mount Gambier hospital is safe? With your leave and that of the house I will explain.

Leave granted.

Mr BELL: There is a report in The Advertiser that cladding used in the Mount Gambier hospital upgrade may in actual fact be flammable.

The Hon. S.K. KNOLL (Schubert—Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Local Government, Minister for Planning) (14:37): I thank the member for Mount Gambier for his question. The answer to his question is unequivocally, yes, the hospital is safe to use. We are working through a difficult issue. To unpack a little bit for the house some of the complexities around this issue, we have seen both in Melbourne, with the Lacrosse fire, and in London, with the Grenfell Tower fire, some very devastating circumstances around the use of aluminium composite panelling (ACP), or cladding as it is more commonly known, that has a higher level of combustibility than it should do.

To make things quite plain, not all cladding is bad. In fact, all cladding that should be on the sides of buildings should all be good. The point is that there are existing provisions in place both through the Building Code and the planning act that make sure that the products that are used on buildings are safe. The difficulty we've got at the moment is the fact that there is some cladding—a lot of it that has been imported—that does not meet the Australian standards and the Australian requirements. Essentially, it's to do with the filling that goes in between the two aluminium panels and the level of flammability of that material.

We have, as have jurisdictions right around the country, gone through a process where we have identified buildings that have any sort of cladding. We then narrow the scope of that to look at which buildings have a heightened level of risk, or could have a heightened level of risk, depending on their size, their structure, their height, a whole series of factors. The department has then gone through—and I will talk now about public buildings—and assessed each one of those buildings as to whether there are any issues in relation to that building that would cause us to need to undertake rectification or other mediation works.

In relation to the Mount Gambier hospital, I can say that that building is safe and that there is no increased risk to life safety as a result of any material that may be on that building. We are going through that process in relation to a whole series of public buildings. Councils, in conjunction with their building fire safety committees, are actually going through this process for private buildings also. Essentially, we are working through building by building to make sure that we are fully apprised of the level of safety in these buildings.

This issue is being characterised in some circles as 'all cladding is bad' and that is not true. In fact, it is nowhere near true. The real difficulty is that the good cladding kind of looks exactly the same as the bad cladding, so there are a number of things that we do around assessing these buildings to help us to identify or mitigate or understand that risk. There are a number of responses that could be put in place around rectification of building, increased response by fire services and other safety measures that could be in place that could reduce risk further, but I can assure the member and the people of Mount Gambier that their hospital is safe to use. In fact, the assessment that has been done ensures that that is the case.

The government is working through this in a methodical way in conjunction with jurisdictions around the rest of the country that have a far, far larger issue than we are dealing with here in South Australia. Nevertheless, we are working diligently through the issues that exist in South Australia and we will continue to give South Australians comfort that the buildings in this state are safe.