Australia– Victoria’s building industry boss says new government regulations for bushfire bunkers will stop any bunkers being built legally for six months.
The Victorian Government yesterday introduced new interim guidelines for the construction of backyard bushfire bunkers.
All year, the Brumby Government has said it would wait for new national standards to be put in place in 2010.
In a sudden change of plan, the Government decided to introduce the interim guidelines to prevent consumers buying or building dangerous bunkers for the upcoming fire season.
But the Master Builders Association of Victoria believes the guidelines will actually stall the installation of bunkers.
The association’s executive director, Brian Welch, says in order for builders to comply with the new guidelines, testing must take place, and that will take time.
“My experience suggests to me that you will find that they will not be able to have a bunker legally installed in Victoria for probably the next six months – that’s because that’s the time I assume it will take to get these things tested and approved,” he told ABC News Online.
“Now that systems have to be approved by this committee in Victoria, it will have to be tested in such a way that it validates the manufacturers’ assertions about its merits and the systems they provide. That testing will take time and it will take money.
“For people living in bushfire-affected areas, let’s say they haven’t been impressed with the amount of warnings they’ve received from anyone prior to a fire, then this (a bunker) is an option they simply will not have legally until this work is done.
“It will have a more profound effect than people realise.”
Mr Welch says the association is not opposed to the guidelines, but he says the Government has rushed them through.
“These regulations have been rammed through for a political purpose and for a societal need,” he said.
“Clearly the Victorian Government has acted quickly to fill that need and they’ve acted quickly to implement something because we knew that it was coming and it arrived quickly.
“I think it was a political imperative for the Government to be seen to be doing something rather than letting the normal regulation process work.
“Normally regulations take time to evolve through discussions with technical experts and practical people in the industry and then regulations are considered and adopted and then there’s a phase-in period for them and then there’s an opportunity for manufacturers and suppliers to adjust the product ready for this regulation that’s going to commence on a future date.”
The Government’s swift action comes after concerns were raised by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) about companies making false claims about bunkers.
Last month, the consumer watchdog complained about three companies who advertised bunkers that they said met national standards when no such standards actually existed.
The Fire Protection Association of Australia (FPAA) has backed the Government’s early implementation of the guidelines, which mean private bunkers cannot be built unless a building permit has been issued.
FPAA’s chief executive officer, Scott Williams, says it was a good idea to bring the guidelines out now in order to stop dodgy bunkers being built.
“Something needed to be done and done quickly, there’s been various issues raised by the ACCC and there’s been a lot of pressure to introduce a standard,” he told ABC News Online.
“Some of these bunkers which were being portrayed as safe havens were in fact nothing more than a death trap.”
Bunkers will now need to have safe entry and exit points and occupants must be able to safely assess the conditions outside.
Mr Welch says the new regulations will put a burden on homeowners because they will face penalties if they do not maintain their bunkers.
He also says because it is a limited market, some bunker builders may stop building because of the regulations.
“There is going to be a burden, not only on the people who are offering the product for sale, but there will also be a burden on those people who have a bunker to maintain it,” he said.
“It’s in, it’s a solution and it’s denying people a choice, but it’s probably going to aid consumers with better information in the long run and it will translate to a more defined and predictable cost.
“There will be greater clarity for consumers than previously existed, but there will be repercussions to the regulations.”
The building of bushfire bunkers has never been encouraged by Victorian authorities under the state’s “stay and defend or leave early” policy.
But since the deaths of 173 people in the Black Saturday fires, many Victorians have been building their own backyard shelters or thinking about it.
Earlier this year, the Bushfires Royal Commission was told that seven people died in fire bunkers on Black Saturday.
In September, the Building Commission called for building standards to be developed for bunkers before this bushfire season.