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Parliamentary pressure still on Peter Garrett -

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Parliamentary pressure still on Peter Garrett


Australian Broadcasting Corporation

Broadcast: 22/02/2010

Reporter: Chris Uhlmann

A parliamentary inquiry has heard Peter Garrett's department did not have the regulatory framework
to police safety requirements in the troubled home insulation program and it's estimated up to
250,000 homes have had sub-standard installations. The environment minister toughed out another
difficult day in Parliament, he has been backed by the Prime Minister but the pressure on his job
still remains.


KERRY O'BRIEN, PRESENTER: For Environment Minister Peter Garrett, today was a white-knuckle ride
amid mounting calls for his scalp as turmoil over his suspended Home Insulation Program shows no
sign of abating. A parliamentary inquiry heard today that the Environment Department did not have
the regulatory framework within which to police safety requirements and that up to a quarter of a
million homes either have a sub-standard instillation or are downright dangerous. More questions
remain about what happens to more than 6,000 businesses that rely on the Home Insulation Program
and up to 14,000 people employed by them.

Mr Garrett toughed out a censure motion in Parliament, but despite a public backing from the Prime
Minister, the pressure on his job remains. Political editor Chris Uhlmann.

CHRIS UHLMANN, REPORTER: On a sparkling Canberra morning, Canberra looks harmless on the outside.
It's less benign on the inside.

JOURNALIST: Isn't this a humiliating backdown for you and an acknowledgement the scheme was flawed
and dangerous?

CHRIS UHLMANN: As Parliament resumes for a week, Environment Minister Peter Garrett is fighting for
his political life after he was forced to shut down the deeply flawed rollout of the $2.5 billion
Home Insulation Program.

PETER GARRETT, ENVIRONMENT MINISTER: Well, Fran, in every stage of this program I've always said
that I take the advice that comes through to me from the department.

CHRIS UHLMANN: Today, that department was called before a Senate committee which wanted to know
when risks were identified and how they were managed.

MARY JO FISHER, LIBERAL BACKBENCHER: It should have been obvious, Ms Kruk, that those strategies
were not effective. That's not a question for you.

ROBYN KRUK, ENVIRONMENT DEPARTMENT, SECRETARY: With all respect, the strategies were put in place
in an industry that has inherent risk. There is probably only one way of ensuring a risk-free
environment in this regard and that is not to go into the ceilings to put in place insulation.

CHRIS UHLMANN: But the question isn't whether the program could be rendered risk-free, it's whether
the risks identified could ever have been managed by the Environment Department. And that's a
question that appears to have been answered on Friday when the minister pulled the plug on it.

PETER GARRETT (Friday): The risks that are identified in the program at this point in time of the
advice that comes to me, cannot be managed to an acceptable level and so it is appropriate, timely
and responsible to announce the closure of this program and a transition to a new program in the

CHRIS UHLMANN: An array of risks were raised before the program kicked off on 1st July last year,
by industry experts, state and territory officials and by law firm Minter Ellison in a report
commissioned by the Environment Department. Among other things, it warned of the extremely limited
time to develop and deliver the program, that the scale of the task is new to the department, of
poor quality installations, of house fires and of the insufficient number of auditors.

The department says it addressed all these concerns, setting up regulations and training programs,
but there was no-one to police the laws.

MALCOLM FORBES, ENVIRONMENT DEPARTMENT: The Commonwealth didn't have the legislative framework in
which a program like this would have the stick. It clearly relied on the regulatory frameworks
which existed in the states.

CHRIS UHLMANN: But at a meeting on 29th April, the states warned the Environment Department that
the size of the program and the speed of the rollout meant it would be effectively unregulated. The
safety warnings were included in the advice to the minister, but he first saw the Minter Ellison
report only 10 days ago.

PETER GARRETT: I only sought that full report when we were asked about it and it was provided to my
office very recently. But I think the point about this report, Fran, which is getting lost this
morning is that it informed the risk assessment that led to us establishing the national program.

CHRIS UHLMANN: The minister and the department have repeatedly described this program as a success.

ROBYN KRUK: Over 1.1 million homes have been insulated, with the average house expected to save up
to $200 a year off their electricity bills. Over $1.4 billion has been approved for payment. The
development and rollout of the first-ever national training program for ceiling insulation
installers has taken place. Over 3,700 individuals have been trained.

CHRIS UHLMANN: But Friday's suspension of the insulation rollout came after an audit showed more
than 80,000 of those million homes now have work that poses a fire risk.

ROBYN KRUK (Friday): We had an indication that up to eight per cent of works were not complying
with the very high safety requirements that we put in our guidelines.

CHRIS UHLMANN: And many more again have imported insulation of such low standard that the
environmental benefits are questionable.

ROBYN KRUK (Friday): It has also indicated that in some instances the quality of the insulation was
not of the standards that we had actually required. That was 16 per cent.

CHRIS UHLMANN: The Coalition put all that into its calculator when it kicked off its Question Time

TONY ABBOTT, OPPOSITION LEADER: On behalf of the 240,000 households with either unsafe or
sub-standard insulation, the 1,000 households left with potentially deadly electrified roofs and
the four families of the young men who have tragically lost their lives, I ask: when did the
minister first receive elements of the Minter Ellison report and what action did he address - did
he take to address the serious concerns that this report raised?

PETER GARRETT: I'm very happy to take the questions that the Opposition puts to me, but I simply
point out to those opposite that the information that was tendered on Friday made clear that some
75 or 76 per cent of households that had been insulated under this program had not shown compliance
or risk issues associated with them, and of those that remained, it was some eight per cent where
significant risks were attached and that they would be followed up as a matter of urgency, as they
always have been under this program.

CHRIS UHLMANN: The Opposition aimed every question at the Environment Minister before launching a
predictable censure motion.

TONY ABBOTT: It was only in February that he finally acted after another two deaths. And Mr
Speaker, let me make it crystal clear: these were preventable deaths. The minister didn't kill
them, but he didn't take the action that would have kept them alive.

ANTHONY ALBANESE, INFRASTRUCTURE MINISTER: And essentially accused this minister of being guilty of
industrial manslaughter, essentially do that: just go that one step too far, as he always does.
There is some irony, I've gotta say, in the party of WorkChoices speaking about safety of workers,
the party of WorkChoices.

CHRIS UHLMANN: More information on the lawyers risk assessment has been tabled this evening. It
weighed the potential liability of this program at between $265 million and $830 million. It
described the department's response to some of the risks as weak and suggested a delay of the
rollout, because the residual risk was not tolerable. The Prime Minister must now be making a risk
assessment of his own. How much damage is all this doing?

KERRY O'BRIEN: Political editor Chris Uhlmann.