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Garrett under pressure over insulation deaths -

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The environment minister came under sustained attack in the nation's capital today for failures in
the home insulation program highlighted on the 730 Report last night. The 37,000 homes that have
foil installed will have to undergo a safety inspection after it has been revealed more than 1000
ceilings may have been electrified. A peak body of electricians warned Peter Garrett's department
of the possible risks involved with the program last April.


KERRY O'BRIEN: The Federal Environment Minister came under sustained attack in Canberra today for
failures in the home insulation program highlighted on the 7:30 Report last night.

Thirty seven thousand homes that have had foil installed in their rooves will have to undergo an
electrical safety inspection as an audit has revealed more than 1000 of them might have had their
ceilings electrified.

Doing that and fixing any problems will cost millions but that is nothing compared with the threat
of more potential tragedy in a program that has already cost four lives and resulted in multiple
house fires.

Worse for the minister, a peak body of electricians warned his department of the dangers inherent
in the program nearly a year ago.

And the ABC has learned of other warnings. Federal environment officials were told by State and
territory officials last April that the roll out of insulation on such a massive scale posed a risk
to lives and property.

Political editor Chris Uhlmann.

PETER GARRETT, ENVIRONMENT MINISTER: Thanks for coming in at late notice, ladies and gentlemen of
the media. I want to make an additional announcement in relation to electrical safety for foil

CHRIS UHLMANN: Pressure is building on the Environment Minister. For the third time since the
Federal ceiling insulation plan began last year, he's had to address serious safety concerns.

Houses have burned down and four installers have died since the program was rolled out as part of
the $42 billion economic stimulus plan.

PETER GARRETT: Every home that has been insulated with foil insulation will undergo an electrical
safety inspection as a consequence of the additional information that has come through to us in
relation to the audit process that's currently underway in Queensland.

CHRIS UHLMANN: Thirty seven thousand homes have been insulated with foil. An interim audit found
five in every 400 of those had live rooves. Or, put another way, the houses have been electrified.

But that turns out to be an underestimate.

PETER GARRETT: As of yesterday, the advice to me was that there was evidence of some five instances
of live insulations of rooves on the base of 400 - interim results of an audit.

It now seems that that figure is higher. It may be a dozen or more on the advice that I have.

CHRIS UHLMANN: If a dozen homes in 400 is a correct estimate, then the people living in about 1,100
homes are in danger.

Some of the deaths are linked to the use of metal fasteners, and the Minister says that's a clear
breach of the guidelines.

PETER GARRETT: We banned metal fasteners November of last year as a consequence of the use of metal
fasteners in putting foil insulation in ceilings and the potential risks that that produced.

CHRIS UHLMANN: But the Minister and his department were warned of the dangers of this program well
before November.

A letter from the National Electrical and Communications Association written in March last year
warned of the inherent dangers of installing insulation near electrical cables.

The Minister rushed from the press conference to Question Time to a predictable reception.

GREG HUNT, OPPOSITION ENVIRONMENT SPOKESMAN: And I'll give him time to reach the chair.

Why have you waited for almost 12 months to acknowledge the electrical and fire risk facing
homeowners and installers?

PETER GARRETT: Consequent to that correspondence, I have met with the industry...


PETER GARRETT: ..and agreed that a number of measures, as were determined to be appropriate, be
brought into place in relation to the guidelines.

CHRIS UHLMANN: The man who wrote the letter says the deaths could have been avoided.

say that we would have predicted the deaths. Certainly, house fires, roof fires, I would have been
confident to predict that.

I wasn't confident in predicting deaths at the time. But in retrospect, I think that if the
installation methods had of been used correctly, then there's a good possibility that those deaths
could have been avoided.

CHRIS UHLMANN: He got a departmental response noting that there was a risk installers might not be
properly trained and saying his association would be added to a stakeholder list.

And that's where it sat for seven months.

JAMES TINSLAY: The training was inadequate and the people who were doing the work had literally, in
some cases, been pulled of the street and told to install without the proper training.

This shouldn't have occurred if the training had of been done correctly at the beginning of the
program, and that's where the fault lies.

CHRIS UHLMANN: But the sheer size and speed of the program meant that no matter what rules the
Federal Government put in place, there was no way to effectively monitor them and there were
warnings about that as well.

The ABC's been told the Department of Environment officials held a phone hook-up with State and
Territory Fair Trading agencies in April 2009 to discuss the insulation program.

At that meeting, the Federal officials were warned that the way they intended to roll out the
program meant that it would effectively be unregulated and that posed a risk to property and lives.

REPORTER: Was that advice passed on to you?

PETER GARRETT: The advice that has come to me in relation to all the undertakings that we've made
in terms of delivering the program and any negotiations or consultations that we've had in relation
to other departments or other state agencies are that satisfies the necessary delivery safely of
ceiling insulation.

ttt: We've got spending blow outs in just about every program that he runs. We've even had four
people die as a result of incompetent work done under his program.

CHRIS UHLMANN: Criticism isn't limited to the Opposition. The head of the Australia Institute says
poor implementation has plagued a series of Rudd Government Environmental initiatives.

RICHARD DENNIS, AUSTRALIA INSTITUTE: There's no doubt this government is having terrible difficulty
implementing its own direct actions.

It wants to help people install insulation, it wants to help people get PV solar on their roof and
it's tried to get people to have green loans to borrow money to buy green things for their homes
but all of these programs, all of these direct actions, have been terribly implemented.

And while they might be good ideas, what the taxpayer need and what the atmosphere needs is good

CHRIS UHLMANN: What Peter Garrett needs is to get out of this week without sustaining any more
damage and that might not be easy because the Opposition will step up its attack tomorrow, persuing
a time honoured line of questioning: What did the Minister know and when?

KERRY O'BRIEN: Political editor Chris Uhlmann.