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Wednesday, 17 March 2010
Page: 2085

Senator BARNETT (2:15 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Climate Change, Energy Efficiency and Water, Senator Wong. Is the minister aware that over 60,000 homes have been installed with underperforming and non-compliant foreign insulation under the government’s failed Home Insulation Program? Will this underperforming and non-compliant material be removed from the 60,000-plus homes and, if so, what will be the cost to the taxpayer?

Senator WONG (Minister for Climate Change, Energy Efficiency and Water) —I thank the senator for the question. I would remind the senator, through you, Mr President, that the Home Insulation Program provided for the use of insulation that complied with Australian standards. Obviously the dramatic escalation in demand for insulation that occurred under the program meant there was potential for the importation of some poor quality insulation products. If people are concerned that poor-quality product was utilised in relation to their home, it is open to them to contact the safety hotline on the program call centre, the number for which has been made public.

I understand that the ACCC and some officers of fair trading have received claims about imported insulation. I am advised that the department continues to work with relevant agencies, including state and territory fair trading authorities and the ACCC, to ensure any import quality issues are addressed. Obviously the government encourages anyone with evidence of product used under the program not meeting the requirements to report these to the department so that these claims can be fully investigated. It is the case that all insulation products, as I said, that were utilised under the HIP were intended to meet Australian standards. This was a mandatory requirement. It is a requirement which existed from day one. The government, in fact, took it a step further by publishing an approved list of products on the program website. That measure—that is, the publication of that approved list—was intended to help both householders and installers choose the appropriate product for their climate zone and individual circumstances. Only products on this list were eligible for use under the HIP from 24 December 2009. (Time expired)

Senator BARNETT —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. How many homes have had insulation installed made from paper? What is the fire risk of this type of insulation?

Senator WONG (Minister for Climate Change, Energy Efficiency and Water) —Again, this issue goes back to the fact that the mandatory requirement under the Home Insulation Program was that insulation products used under that program were to meet Australian standards. It should be clear as well that the additional approved products list, which was published on the website, extended the information available to consumers and to installers—and ‘approved products’ obviously meant those that had been tested by a laboratory and were proven to meet the standard. I should also note in relation to this compliance question that installers were required from December 2009 to affix a product label to the roof cavity and attach one to the householder’s copy of the work order form.

Senator Barnett —I have a point of order on the issue of relevance. There were two very specific questions in terms of how much of the insulation and how many homes have been installed with insulation made from paper—whether it is yellow pages or otherwise. Can the minister please address that question in the remaining six seconds.

The PRESIDENT —Senator Wong, I do draw your attention to the question. You have six seconds remaining.

Senator WONG (Minister for Climate Change, Energy Efficiency and Water) —I am asked about the nature of products and what was installed and I am outlining the measures the government took. (Time expired)

Senator BARNETT —Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Notwithstanding the refusal of the minister to answer that question, given that the government’s Home Insulation Program was designed to stimulate the Australian economy, how much of the insulation installed in Australian homes was in fact imported, creating stimulus overseas and not in Australia?

Senator WONG (Minister for Climate Change, Energy Efficiency and Water) —The government has made clear that we set a quality standard for the use of home insulation products and really all of your questions, through you, Mr President—

Opposition senators interjecting—

The PRESIDENT —Senator Wong, I cannot hear you because there is a debate taking place across the chamber. It is completely disorderly.

Senator WONG —I making the point that the government did set mandatory requirements for the—

Senator Ian Macdonald —You are to answer the question!

The PRESIDENT —Ignore the interjections. It is disorderly, Senator Macdonald, you know that.

Senator WONG —As I was saying, I am asked about what—

Senator Ian Macdonald interjecting—

The PRESIDENT —Senator McDonald! It is not an opportunity for you to ask the question again.

Senator Ian Macdonald —Mr President, I rise on a point of order. The minister was asked a question and we sought an answer. The point of order is on the question of relevance. Why is she allowed to say she wants to make a point about something completely irrelevant? I ask you, Mr President, to insist that she directly address the question or sit down if she is incapable of doing it.

Senator Ludwig —Mr President, on the point of order, the minister has been answering the question and has been directly relevant to the question. In fact, the minister has been going through the point of answering the question. It is not a case that in taking a point of order the questioner can in this instance insist that the President undertake an action; he could humbly request. The point of order that he has made is not only objectionable but also out of order.

The PRESIDENT —There is no point of order, as I had already drawn the minister’s attention to the question. Secondly, I cannot direct the minister how to answer the question. The minister has 29 seconds remaining. Minister, I draw your attention to the question and ask you to address the question.

Senator WONG —Thank you, Mr President. I am seeking to do that because I was asked about the quality of insulation products. What I am doing is outlining for the benefit of the Senate the mandatory requirements which would apply to all insulation installed under the program. It may be that there were operators who did not comply with those mandatory requirements, and the government is undertaking an inspection program to deal with those issues. I have already indicated that it was a mandatory requirement that insulation comply with Australian standards. (Time expired)