Additional Comments from Government Senators
Government Senators were not involved in the conduct of the Committee's
inquiry into the Use of Smoke Alarms to Prevent Smoke and Fire Related Death ('the
inquiry') as Senators were engaged on other Senate work and were unable to
attend hearings. We note however the Hansard evidence of witnesses at hearings
and have the benefit of written submissions. We have also reviewed the
Committee Chair's Inquiry report ('the Chair's report').
The Chair's report is focused on legislative and regulatory instruments
that relate to fire-detection. Government members of the committee note that
almost without exception these instruments operate in state and territory
jurisdictions and are not within the remit of the Commonwealth Government.
State and territory mechanisms relating to building codes do, however,
intersect with the commonwealth oversight function of the Australian Building
Codes Board ('the ABCB') through the application of the National Construction
Code ('the NCC'). The Government members of the Committee note that the
preservation of the life and safety of building occupants is a core objective
of the NCC.
The Commonwealth does not have a position in relation to smoke alarms as
it is a state and territory issue. Advice received by Government members of the
Committee indicates that the ABCB is not currently considering any amendments
to the NCC in relation to smoke alarms.
Government members remain uncertain as to why the inquiry was conducted
by the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee when, were the
issue a matter for the federal as opposed to state parliaments, this issue
would have been better investigated by the Senate Economics Committee which
covers the Industry portfolio.
The Chair's report offers a number of recommendations, some of which
address the scope and operation of the NCC, to which Government members of the
Committee offer the following remarks.
Recommendation One and Recommendation Two call for the creation of a
national database of residential fire incidents and a national scheme for the
reporting of fire incidents. Government Senators do not disagree with the
principle of collecting and collating national data and statistics around
residential fire incidents however would note that the architecture of this
scheme remains unclear, in particular how this scheme would be administrated
and funded. Government members of the Committee would caution against proposals
that create superfluous regulatory entities that detract resources from the
development of fire-prevention practices, and the actual management of fire
Recommendation Three calls for the NCC to be amended to require
installation of interconnected photoelectric smoke alarms, and specify the
locations and types of smoke alarms, in residential premises. It is the view of
Government members that the costs in time and money of developing and deploying
such a scheme, and of retro-fitting individual properties, could be
prohibitive. The agreement of all states and territories would also be
necessary for the effective creation of any such national scheme.
Recommendation Four calls for state and territory governments to adopt
the NCC in order to give effect to Recommendation Three. Government members
suspect that each state and territory government will have its own views about
the scope of building code regulation. Government members are not convinced
that state and territory governments would be easily persuaded to accept an
additional layer of Commonwealth oversight as a desirable outcome.
Recommendation Five calls for the introduction of mandatory compliance
checks for smoke alarms. Government members would again note that the law
relating to residential tenancy and residential property transfer falls within
state and territory jurisdictions.
Recommendation Six calls for the creation of a website, and other
stakeholder resources, to promote awareness and education around residential
fire-prevention. Government members of the committee support the spirit of this
Recommendation Seven calls for a nationwide smoke alarm consultation
scheme to be implemented. Government members note that this recommendation is
vague and ambiguous: the recommendation identifies the participants in the
scheme but offers little regarding the operation or, indeed, the purpose of the
scheme. The Commonwealth does not currently operate a website on this subject
due to smoke alarms and building codes being principally a matter for state and
Senator the Hon Ian
Macdonald Senator Dean Smith
Deputy Chair Senator
for Western Australia
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