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Wednesday, 24 February 2010
Page: 1732


Ms JULIE BISHOP (3:35 PM) —I second the motion. After weeks of the controversy that has engulfed the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts in one of the worst public policy scandals that many seasoned political operatives have ever seen in this country—worse than anyone can recall in decades—we have a Commonwealth program failure that has no peer in the memory of political commentators. This government’s program is a scandal that has resulted in 240,000 homes considered to have dodgy insulation; 48,000 homes considered to be at risk; 6,000 people out of a job; about a thousand homes considered to be live, considered to be electrified at present; 165 house fires, according to the most recent emergency services report; and four tragic deaths of young men and boys.

After weeks of this controversy, yesterday the Prime Minister said that he was responsible for this disastrous program. He said he accepted responsibility for the failings of this program. But those who know this Prime Minister, those who have watched this Prime Minister over the last two years, know what he was actually saying. He was not accepting responsibility for this program. We know he actually does not believe it is his responsibility. It is not because he is a noble person. It is not because he is a man of conscience. It is not because he was graciously trying to take the rap for the minister for the environment. It is not because he is contrite for what has happened. It is not because he wants to say sorry to the families of those four boys. It is because he is thumbing his nose at the Australian people. He is saying: ‘I’m the Prime Minister. I’ve taken responsibility. So what? What are you going to do about it?’ That is what he said to the Australian people yesterday. He is thumbing his nose at the Australian people.

Such is the arrogance of this Prime Minister he thinks he can get away with it. He thinks he can get away with a program like this, which has cost lives, has put thousands of homes and people at risk and has cost thousands of dollars of taxpayers’ money already. And they want to throw more after this disastrous scheme. He thinks he can get away with one of the most incompetent and scandalous examples of maladministration that this country has seen. This parliament must censure the Prime Minister and the government for the comprehensive failure of a government policy, with such devastating consequences.

What many Australians will find as disturbing and as offensive as the government’s failings are the double standards and sheer hypocrisy of this Prime Minister. When he was seeking election to the high office of Prime Minister before the 2007 election, he claimed he would usher in a new era of ministerial accountability. He said to the media:

I am determined to re-establish a functioning Westminster system in this country along those two principles—that is ministerial responsibility and the independence of the public service.

He has now demonstrated a contumelious disregard for the Westminster system of ministerial responsibility by refusing to hold the minister for the environment responsible for a program that has left thousands of Australians negatively affected. They have lost jobs. Businesses have lost work. They are left with unused stock and vehicles. People are worried sick that their home has been subjected to shoddy insulation that will result in a house fire—maybe not this year, but what about next year or the year after? Electricians are refusing to become involved in this scheme. Where are the assessors who are going to give people the peace of mind that they need to be assured that they are safe in their homes? There have been 165 house fires. Who would leave their home if they knew that one of those shoddy installers had been there but the government had not yet assessed the risk? People are worried sick. They cannot sleep. Yet the Prime Minister ignores their concerns.

Mr Speaker, remember the fanfare about this Prime Minister’s code of ministerial conduct? He said:

The Australian people are entitled to expect the highest standards of behaviour from their elected representatives in general and Ministers in particular.

He said:

Ministers must accept the full implications of the principle of ministerial responsibility. They will be required to answer for the consequences of their decisions and actions …

This Prime Minister and this minister must answer for the consequences of their decisions and actions. We censure the Prime Minister. (Time expired)