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Tuesday, 23 February 2010
Page: 842

Senator BOB BROWN (Leader of the Australian Greens) (3:38 PM) —by leave—I move:

That the Senate—

(a)   censures the Government for its gross and systematic failure in the delivery of its climate change programs including home insulation, green loans, solar rebate, renewable remote power generation program and the renewable energy target; and

(b)   calls on the Government to put in place a unified ministry and Department of Climate Change and Energy.

I begin by assuring the Senate that this is done with great gravity. There has not been a motion of censure of a minister or of the government in the period the Rudd government has been in office. The use of the censure, I can assure senators, is not taken by me, after 24 years parliamentary experience, lightly at all.

However, as a nation we are witnessing one of the grossest episodes of mishandling of the public money and the public trust in recent governance history. The Rudd government came to office in a very large part on the basis of its commitment to the Australian public to address the issue of climate change. Two big election promises to that end were the 20 per cent renewable energy target and the promise that 150,000 Australian homes would be given green loans to improve both their water efficiency and their ability to reduce the dependence on fossil fuels and therefore help in the fight against climate change.

In the event, the 20 per cent renewable energy target program has failed, not least because of the government’s refusal to take note of warnings from my colleague Senator Milne. Instead of including photovoltaics and solar hot-water services within the target, Senator Milne advised to make them additional to the target. The government did not take that advice; the Prime Minister did not take that advice; the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts did not take notice of that advice; and, in this place, the Minister for Climate Change and Water did not take notice of that advice. Now we have a renewable energy target program which is in corrosion if not at the point of sheer collapse. The wind energy system in Australia, which had such promise of investment, job creation and clean energy creation, is in the doldrums, to say the least, with hundreds of jobs and the expectation of many small businesses and, indeed, some large businesses blighted by the government’s failure to take better advice, on this occasion from a Greens senator who knew much better and was much better informed about the state of that industry and the delivery of this program.

The second commitment to the Australian people, which attracted a great deal of voter approval, was the promise by the government of 150,000 green loans. In the event, 1,000 have been and will be delivered. This is a less than one per cent success rate on that promise. Amongst the blighted promises is the program rollout to skill people to be able to take part in this program, thousands of whom now are skilled with nowhere to go, with their investment lost and with no promise of future employment.

When we look at the now renowned Home Insulation Program, which was part of the stimulus package, there was a promise which led everybody in Australia to believe that they could safely have their homes insulated and their power prices brought down to make a contribution to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. In the event, we know that this is now an utter shambles. It has led not only to potential loss of life and injury but also to some 90 house fires and some 1,000 or more potential electrified ceilings. Many people around Australia who have had this insulation installed in their homes wanted to think they would feel good about this as a result of their contribution to climate change and their lower power bills; but instead they are worried about whether death lurks in their attic or ceiling. It is a terrible situation.

I quote from an article on the front page of the Age today which outlines one account of the outcome of this program:

LIKE a chain of dominoes, the once booming insulation industry was collapsing yesterday, with hundreds of jobs axed and thousands more expected to go amid warnings the sector could freeze for a year.

At the top of the insulation food chain, Australia’s biggest ceiling batt manufacturer warned that factories could close within weeks.

Several companies have been running their factories 24 hours a day, seven days a week for months, creating a huge glut of batts that are now largely unwanted in the wake of the rebate scheme being axed on Friday by Environment Minister Peter Garrett.

Fletcher Insulation makes about 40 per cent of Australia’s insulation, and managing director David Isaacs said he expected 8000 jobs to be lost from the industry.

It is an utter shambles. We have been left to wonder how the government could get into such a mess. One of the problems is that there was not due diligence from the top. We do know that the Prime Minister’s office is inordinately interested in what the various departments, including the Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts, and the Department of Climate Change, are doing in the delivery of infrastructure and public spending. As the Prime Minister himself has said in the last 24 hours, he takes—and Prime Minister Rudd must take—responsibility for the way in which this extraordinary failure of billions of dollars of potential investment of taxpayers’ money, and money from the private sector, has been botched. That is what has happened.

Then we discover that the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts commissioned last year a report from Minter Ellison about the proposed programs and Minter Ellison reported to the department and to the minister—and no doubt to the Prime Minister himself—in April last year that there was great concern about the government’s ability, the department’s ability, to handle such a mammoth program. They recommended a delay of three months from July to the end of September. The report warned otherwise of the extreme risk of house fires, fraud and poor quality insulation, amongst many other things, and said that up to $195 million of taxpayers’ money could be wasted if delay, due diligence and prudent rollout were not undertaken. But we also now know that neither the Prime Minister nor the minister for the environment looked at that report until a couple of weeks ago. In other words, it was commissioned by the government and it gave a warning of things that were to happen.

We are not talking about hindsight here; those things happened because the government did not take notice, and the ministers, the Prime Minister included, must take responsibility. Now we understand that neither the minister nor the Prime Minister even read the report. We have it from the bureaucracy that government was told about the consequences coming from those reports. I am not going to split hairs here, but when ministers—even if they have not read a report they have commissioned themselves—get advised on the content of that report with such dire warnings and such horrendous consequences if advice is not taken, and they listen to neither, they have to accept that there has been a gross failure of governance by the Rudd government in this area of the rollout of a green program in an age of climate change which had such promise and should have had such a massive triple dividend—economic, employment and environmental—for the Australian people.

This censure is warranted. This government ought to be censured. This government stands censured, if this motion passes by the Senate, for a gross failure of governance which involves several ministers, not least the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts and the Prime Minister himself.