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Tuesday, 23 February 2010
Page: 819

Senator ABETZ (2:00 PM) —My question is to the Minister representing the Prime Minister, Senator Evans. Does anyone at all in the entire Rudd government bear responsibility for the mismanagement of the Home Insulation Program?

Senator CHRIS EVANS (Minister for Immigration and Citizenship) —I thank Senator Abetz for the question. I think it is fair to say that the minister has taken responsibility for the program, and he has discharged those responsibilities by answering questions and debating issues around that program in the parliament. He is accountable to the parliament, and he has taken those responsibilities seriously. So he has taken responsibility for that. I also note that I caught a grab of a press conference that the Prime Minister did this morning when he indicated that he also took responsibility for the performance of the government and programs undertaken by this government. So there is no question that the minister and the government generally take responsibility for the programs they administer.

We have made adjustments to programs where we think they are not delivering the results that we hoped for or where they could be more broadly improved. Also, of course, we have sought to make adjustments to programs as a result of serious concerns that have been raised regarding safety and implementation standards. So there is no question of whether or not responsibility is taken; the minister and the government have accepted responsibility for the programs. The opposition seek to draw some conclusion that the minister ought to resign, because they have a view about his performance, but I think that what we have seen is the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts taking responsibility, making changes where necessary and being accountable to the Australian people and the parliament. I think his personal performance has been exemplary, and I know him to be an honourable man who is acting honourably in difficult circumstances.

Senator ABETZ —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Does the government have full confidence in the way Ministers Garrett and Arbib have dealt with their responsibilities under the Home Insulation Program?

Senator CHRIS EVANS (Minister for Immigration and Citizenship) —The government has full confidence in its ministers. The Prime Minster has made that very clear to the parliament when the opposition have raised those concerns. I have great confidence in Senator Arbib’s performance and capacities; he is one of our best new ministers and he is making a large contribution to the government. While the opposition may hate the success that he has shown in his responsibilities, he is an effective minister. So, yes, we have confidence in our ministers, but we also have the capacity to seek to make changes if programs are not running well. Ministers take on the responsibility of making those changes. Minister Garrett announced a whole range of reforms to programs that were of concern. But the Prime Minister, as I say, has made it very clear that his ministers enjoy his confidence, and I share his view.

Senator ABETZ —Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Given that the Labor government has, albeit unbelievably, full confidence in the way Ministers Garrett and Arbib have dealt with their responsibilities, is the Rudd government saying that departmental officials are in some way to blame?

Senator CHRIS EVANS (Minister for Immigration and Citizenship) —I do not really understand the assertion that Senator Abetz is trying to make. The ministers have accepted responsibility for administration of their portfolios. They have accepted responsibility for responding should concerns arise with the administration of those programs. I am not sure that Senator Abetz is the best placed person either to ask this sort of question or to talk about the role of public servants in the government, given his infamous dealings with Mr Godwin Grech and the lack of proper behaviour in regard to those matters, so I certainly will not be lectured by Senator Abetz. There is no suggestion of people blaming public servants; it is about making sure that problems are addressed and that people respond to problems and seek to take the appropriate action. (Time expired)