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Thursday, 27 May 2010
Page: 4429


Mr HUNT (2:12 PM) —My question is to the Prime Minister. I refer to the Prime Minister’s press conference of 23 February this year and his statement that the cabinet had not received reports of safety concerns under the Home Insulation Program. Will the Prime Minister now concede that the then Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts warned him of safety issues on 12 distinct occasions across three letters dated 27 August, 28 October and 30 October? Is it not a fact that the Prime Minister knew about safety concerns all along and why is he still hiding the 14 August letter received from Minister Garrett?


Mr RUDD (Prime Minister) —I thank the honourable member for his question. First of all, could I turn to the correspondence that he refers to: Minister Garrett’s letters to me dated 27 August, 28 October and 30 October. These have been provided to the Senate in their entirety, although not requested by the Senate orders, complete with my letters to Mr Garrett dated 4 September, 29 October and 2 November. These have been provided voluntarily to the Senate. Furthermore, as I outlined in the House on 11 March, there are a number of actions and changes to the program that the responsible minister proposed during 2009 to address a range of safety issues. These have all been reviewed by Dr Hawke in the context of his review.

The member for Flinders asks about cabinet deliberations. I refer him to the updates which were provided to the cabinet through the Nation Building and Jobs Plan implementation reports. I have reported on those earlier in this parliament. Furthermore, could I say to the honourable member for Flinders that, from 1 July 2009, subsequent to the introduction of the program, there were a number of changes to it. The Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts issued 26 installer notices under their Home Insulation Program that went to every registered installer. These notices often dealt with safety issues, including reminders around electrical safety and any updates to the program guidelines. Furthermore, can I say to the member for Flinders that, from 1 July 2009—


Mr Hunt —Mr Speaker, a point of order on relevance: the question asked why the Prime Minister was hiding the letter of 14 August.


The SPEAKER —The Prime Minister is responding to the question.


Mr RUDD —The question from the member for Flinders went to cabinet deliberations, to correspondence with the minister and to a letter which I will come to presently. I am answering the honourable member’s questions in sequence. From 1 July—


Ms Julie Bishop interjecting


Mr RUDD —If I were the Deputy Leader of the Opposition on the question of adhering to proper protocols I would ask her to reflect on her behaviour in recent days.


Ms Julie Bishop interjecting


The SPEAKER —The Deputy Leader of the Opposition! The Prime Minister will ignore interjections.


Mr RUDD —From 1 July 2009 the program guidelines outlined strict requirements for installers to have occupational health and safety training. There was also a construction industry pocketbook provided to registered installers which specifically—


Mrs Bronwyn Bishop —Mr Speaker, on a point of order as to relevance: the Prime Minister seems to have a problem in hearing what the question is. Perhaps he could clean the wax out of his ears.


The SPEAKER —The member for Mackellar will come to the point of order.


Mrs Bronwyn Bishop —He’s got practice—


The SPEAKER —Order! The member for Mackellar will resume her seat. The Prime Minister is responding to the question.


Mr RUDD —On 14 August, I received a letter from the minister proposing increased compliance requirements for the Home Insulation Program. On 17 August, the relevant cabinet committee considered the compliance issues raised by the minister in his 14 August letter. The committee approved changes to the program guidelines, including requiring physical site inspections and a range of other measures. On 27 August 2009, I received a letter from the minister proposing changes to the program to require installers to provide physical evidence of qualifications and/or competencies before they are registered.

On 28 August the changes to the program guidelines were released. Furthermore, these guidelines required from 1 September 2009 the following: the requirement for installers to undertake a physical site inspection before providing a written quote to improve the quality of quotations; the requirement of installers, including those currently in the process of registering, to provide evidence of qualifications and/or competencies at the time of registration; and the provision of a price guide advisory for different types of insulation products and other variables to educate householders and installers. Furthermore installers charging above the maximum recommended price would be required to explain why—


Ms Julie Bishop —Where’s the letter?


The SPEAKER —The Deputy Leader of the Opposition is warned!


Mr RUDD —on the quote provided to the householders. On 28 October the minister wrote to me to indicate the actions he intended to take in response. These included requiring householders to get two quotes and to publish a public list of deregistered installers. On 29 October, I responded to this letter agreeing to the minister’s proposal to tighten the guidelines.

On 30 October Minister Garrett wrote to me in relation to safety issues in the Home Insulation Program. The letter proposed to roll out an electrical safety testing program for homes that had had foil insulation and proposed a ban on metal fasteners and proposed to mandate the use of covers over down lights and other ceiling appliances.

On 2 November 2009, I replied to the minister noting the package of safety measures he had proposed and from 2 November 2009, under the Home Insulation Program, metal fasteners for foil insulation were banned. Installation of covers over down lights and other ceiling appliances were mandated. The government announced it was implementing a target electrical safety program.

The further part of the honourable members question goes to a further letter on the part of the then minister, Minister Garrett. A letter from Mr Garrett dated 14 August 2009 was a proposal for increased compliance requirements for the HIP and it is a cabinet document which was considered by a cabinet committee on 17 August 2009.

Opposition members interjecting—


Mr RUDD —Before those opposite become too excited, they will note that I have already provided an outline of what was in the 14 August 2009 letter and the other letters to which I referred in the House on 11 March 2010. To remind the honourable member what I said about it at that time:

On 17 August, the relevant cabinet committee considered the compliance issues raised by the minister in his 14 August letter. The committee approved changes to the program guidelines which included requiring the following: physical site inspections prior to giving quotes, increased inspections and scrutiny of trainer qualifications, increased compliance communications and processes for suspending and deregistering non-compliant installers.

I have therefore in the past been more than happy to provide a description of the contents of these letters, including the one which is a cabinet document. In terms of the handling of that particular document, we have adhered to the processes which have been applied by all previous Australian governments.


Mr Hunt —Mr Speaker, I seek leave to table the 12 warnings to the Prime Minister.

Leave not granted.


Mr Hunt —They were tabled in the Senate this morning. What are you afraid of?


The SPEAKER —Order! The member for Flinders will resume his seat.