The theft of scrap metal continues to have a major impact on, not only the building and construction industry, but the wider community, locally, nationally and globally. 

Some recent significant events include copper cabling stolen from a Telstra pit in Gosnells impacting 4000 customers with phone and internet service outages for almost 2 weeks.  Copper cabling installed for night lights at a Clarkson sporting oval was targeted, impacting community sporting events and regular training sessions.  Copper cabling stolen from a local government water pumping station halted water supply to new land development areas. 14 km of copper wiring was stolen from railway line infrastructure; the list goes on. 

Up to 700 water meters, a whopping $190,000 worth, are stolen for the brass from building sites each year. This figure doesn’t include the cost of other scrap metals such as electrical cable and copper pipe. These are direct financial hits on building and construction companies bottom lines. Add to this the indirect costs of re installation works, time delays, worker and client frustrations and the negative impact these thefts are having on communities and we start to see the true impact of scrap metal theft and crime in general.   

Theft of scrap metals is not new to the building and construction industry. Over a six-month period back in 2003 builders reported just under $180,000.00 worth of aluminium window frames stolen from construction sites. Theft was so widespread that bricklayers where taking window frames home with them so they could continue to work the following day!  

The reporting of crime in 2003 was a significant influence in identification of the issues around scrap metal theft. At that time the “Name and Shame” investigators visited every scrap metal dealer in the Perth metro area, presented to a Scrap Metal Industry AGM and liaised with Police to provide dedicated surveillance on suspect business and individuals. Theft of window frames was reduced to less than $30,000 in the following six-month period and a number of offenders were caught and charged with theft.  Interestingly… not a single Scrap Metal Dealer was charged with receiving stolen goods.   

Cash for scrap continues to be one of the main drivers for theft. Thieves can cash-in stolen metal with ease receiving between $5.00 to $7.00 per kilo for copper piping and stripped cable, $1.50 to $2.00 per kilo for unstripped electrical cable and $4 per kilo for brass (water meters). Easy money for a drug user looking for quick cash to score for the day. It’s also a risk-free means for unscrupulous scrap metal dealers, who have no regard for where the scrap has been taken from, so they can increase their stock levels and sell to overseas markets.  

With the introduction of GST the Australian Taxation Office introduced a voluntary Code of Compliance for the scrap metal industry. The code outlined the process for the purchase and sale of scrap metal and the requirement for ongoing record keeping. Investigations within the industry indicate the requirement for identification is maintained by reputable Scrap Metal Dealers but is rarely, if ever, monitored by authorities.

Whilst a number of scrap metal dealers conduct their businesses lawfully there exists a number who operate in an entirely non-compliant manner.  This comes at the expense of not only the legitimate scrap metal business operators, but also the wider community when the impact of property crime is taken into account. 

But it’s not all bad news.  Continued efforts towards Scrap Metal Law reform are gaining some progress. The National Motor Vehicle Theft Reduction Council (NMVTRC) have set up an Expert Reference Group to work towards bringing WA in line with the NSW and Victoria Government reforms. The ERG, comprising of NMVTRC, WA Police, Sims Metal, Braven Group Services (Pact Site Security), MTA and Dept of Transport discussed two options of legislative change.

Option 1:  The modernisation of the current Pawnbrokers and Second-hand Dealers Act 1994 to include ferrous and non-ferrous metals with both consumer protection provisions and additional stronger Police intervention powers.  

Option 2:  A standalone crime prevention model (based on the NSW Scrap Metal Reform Act) including no cash payments, broad powers of police entry without warrant, and flexible penalties for non-compliance including immediate closure orders.   

In addition to the ERG a government utility working group was established in 2018 and we have liaised with the group and initiated a meeting with NMVTRC to create a stronger collaborative approach to ensure appropriate reform of the scrap metal industry.  

How can you assist the building and construction industry to advance Scrap Metal Industry reform even further? Ensure that you report every incident of scrap metal theft. The act of reporting allows the collection of data that not only identify trends, hotspot items and areas, but also enables appropriate resources to be allocated to these areas and provides valuable data of theft and how it impacts your industry.     

It is time to ensure the required reform materialises and, whatever reform model is introduced, it is imperative that there are appropriate resources available to enforce compliance requirements to bring an end to the ongoing theft and sale of stolen scrap metal.

Footnote: Scrap Metal Industry Reform Survey have your say here

Craig Pages-Oliver