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Wednesday, 24 February 2010
Page: 1711


Mr ROBERT (2:07 PM) —My question is to the Prime Minister. Yesterday Tony and Maria Harvey of Allpro Insulation in my electorate of Fadden were forced to lay off 13 staff and now have half a million dollars worth of stock and vehicles lying idle. Every time they have attempted to call the hotline telephone number for retrenched workers, the line has been engaged. When will the Prime Minister ensure his actions to fix this dire situation match the government’s rhetoric?


Mr RUDD (Prime Minister) —I thank the member for Fadden for his question. I know him less well than the member for Pearce; nonetheless I will take what he has said at face value. If any individual seeking to contact the government on these matters cannot get through, that is unacceptable. The government therefore must lift its game to make that happen, and we intend to do so.

On the question of those who run insulation businesses—and the honourable member referred to one business in particular in his question—I had the opportunity today in front of Parliament House to speak to a number of businesses that had come here to protest over the decisions taken by the government. I spent some time speaking with representatives of four companies. They may be with us in the public gallery; I am uncertain whether that is the case. It was important to hear from them first-hand their experiences. The bottom line is, as I said yesterday in my remarks in a press conference, as Prime Minister of the country I fully accept responsibility for the government’s decisions whether they are, firstly, popular decisions or unpopular decisions; secondly, good decisions or bad decisions; or, thirdly, programs which are implemented with perfect success or those which are not—and that extends, of course, to this program.

Insulation workers were at the heart of the matters which were raised with me by those four owners of insulation companies today. The Insulation Council of Australia and New Zealand has estimated as of 18 February that the closure of the program would result in 6,000 people losing their jobs. Many of these people are good, honest workers whose jobs have been disrupted because of a small number of shonky operators.

The government therefore offers a commitment to those workers as follows: (1) each worker will receive support to retain their current job through the transition phase before the new Renewable Energy Bonus Scheme begins, this support will be provided through assistance to businesses to retain workers through the transition phase in either work or training; (2) in addition, the government will assist displaced insulation workers to find alternative jobs with other employers in other industries, which assistance will be provided through priority employment coordinators, dedicated insulation coordination officers and the resources of the Job Services Australia network; (3) where appropriate employment opportunities are not available, the government will ensure that a relevant training place is available to displaced insulation workers to help those workers transition to more permanent employment in the future, given that the Home Insulation Program was designed as a temporary program.

The $41.2 million insulation worker adjustment package will be funded through an allocation of $11.5 million from the Jobs Fund and $29.7 million from the Productivity Places Program and other existing training programs. The government will continue to assess the number of workers displaced by the early termination of the Home Insulation Program and will make adjustments to this package as required.

One of the other key concerns raised with me by the owners of the companies whom I met earlier today in front of Parliament House was the continuation of the Renewable Energy Bonus Scheme in the future. Their question to me was: when can we transition to that scheme? The government has indicated that we would have it up and running by 1 June, and in the case of certain firms it may be possible to do so earlier. I am certain that the owners of those businesses—and I say this in response to the honourable member for Fadden—would be concerned to have heard statements I believe to have been made by representatives of the opposition, including the shadow Treasurer, who have declined to provide bipartisan support for the continuation of that scheme in the future.


Mr Hockey —You screwed up the last one—why wouldn’t you do it again?


Mr RUDD —Mr Speaker, I listen very carefully to the interjections by those opposite, and they confirm exactly the point I was making. The Leader of the Opposition and the shadow Treasurer are, on the one hand, out there reflecting concern about the jobs impact of a program and, in the same breath, walking the other side of the street and providing no support for the continuation of a revised program in the future. I think the shadow Treasurer exceeded his brief, but he has done so eloquently today.

In response to the member for Fadden’s question—that is, the contents of the government’s proposed insulation worker adjustment package—as I said in the conclusion of my remarks before, we stand ready to make other appropriate adjustments as necessary. The government will not walk away from its responsibilities to the workers of Australia.