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Transcript of interview with Steve Price: MTR: 4 June 2010: Home Insulation Program.



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The Hon. Greg Combet AM, MP Minister Assisting the Minister for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency Interview with Steve Price - Home Insulation Program

Transcript MTR 04 June 2010

STEVE PRICE: The Federal Government said that they would inspect 150,000 homes around the country. The minister responsible is Greg Combet. Thanks for your time.

GREG COMBET: Thanks, Steve.

STEVE PRICE: How many have you done?

GREG COMBET: Just about 57,000 homes now have been inspected and that includes homes with foil insulation, which are mainly up the north, and homes with other sorts of insulation. So we've made a start, but there's a long way to go.

STEVE PRICE: Are they being inspected at a rate that you're happy with?

GREG COMBET: No, we're currently doing - around 2000 a week we've worked up to; I think, when I took on this role several months ago we were down around 400 a week. So we've built it up, but there's a long way to build it up from here and we're just progressively, but, you know, in mitigating as much risk as we possibly can, adding more contractors so that we can expand the number of inspections.

STEVE PRICE: I had a caller during the week, Brenda, whose husband is disabled, she's elderly, she can't get in the roof. Here's what she said.

[Excerpt from earlier program]

CALLER BRENDA: Good morning. Look, I had insulation installed in September last year. My concern is my husband is completely disabled. I use a hoist to get him in and out of bed. I lay awake every night now listening to the radio, you know, especially, the fire brigade saying the dangers that we're in.

I've rang the hotline last March, and I rang them again on Monday. I'm just very concerned. I've got a heater exhaust in the bathroom and we had to take that stuff blown in and I don't know whether it's going to…

STEVE PRICE: So you've had that insulation that's blown into the ceiling?

CALLER BRENDA: Yes, yes, the blow-in. And I don't know whether it's going to go over the heater exhaust or not. I'm just petrified and I lay awake every night just wondering…

STEVE PRICE: Do you…

[End of excerpt]

STEVE PRICE: Minister, petrified elderly women laying awake at night with disabled husband wanting to know whether their house is going to burn down.

GREG COMBET: Yes, it's terribly worrying, isn't it? So I hope that that lady's been…

STEVE PRICE: Well, what are we going to do about that though?

GREG COMBET: Well, if she's rung the hotline - which for anyone listening is 131 792 - we'll arrange an inspection. But it sounds as if she may have done that already. I certainly hope it'll happen quickly, but if we need to follow it up, we will.

STEVE PRICE: But we shouldn't need her ringing here, and we certainly don't want older people, as it gets colder in winter, too scared to put their lights and heaters on, which is what I'm being told is happening.

GREG COMBET: No, and, of course, it's very worrying for people but…

STEVE PRICE: Can't you put more people on it? I mean, we've got a whole department there now apparently that is not doing anything because the emissions trading scheme fell over. Ca… we can't even pay bills of electricians who are working for you to try and fix this stuff.

GREG COMBET: Well, when I took the responsibility on to try and fix all of this up, we have put more people on; and I've brought senior people into the department to run the program who are more experienced in program, you know, delivering services and programs to people. And we've had to do everything from expanding the office space for the people in the department that will handle all aspects of this to doing contract negotiations to get more contractors out in the field doing the home inspections.

So it's a large task but we are building up to it. And the inspections, when people ring up the hotline, if they are seeking an inspection, they're worried, we've obviously got to prioritise so that we'll do urgent ones as quickly as possible…

STEVE PRICE: Well, that obviously hasn't happened with Brenda.

GREG COMBET: Well, I'm not exactly sure of the - of what may have occurred with her on the hotline and what may have been committed or not. But if she cares to ring in again, she's - it, you know, is possible to organise an inspection and it can be prioritised. But it's taking about one to two weeks for most people when they're ringing up to organise…

STEVE PRICE: So you're doing 2000 houses a week, you've got a million to inspect. How long's that going to take?

GREG COMBET: Well, we're not planning on inspecting a million, Steve. When we - as we're doing the inspections we're building up a much better profile, if you like, of the installers who were the most risky. And we're obviously assessing all of the homes going back through the database and doing a risk assessment and pro… prioritising those that need to be done as a priority.

And we've committed to do at least 150,000. But we will do as many as is necessary, but will continue to be informed by what we find in the rooves when we get there.

STEVE PRICE: Is it right that you've only got 12 people in the department processing the contractors invoices, which lea…

GREG COMBET: No…

STEVE PRICE: … leaves this bloke, Steve McCracken, our electrician on the Gold Coast, $40,000 out of pocket? I mean, you see how bad that looks? You've asked, or you've engaged him…

GREG COMBET: But it's not correct…

STEVE PRICE: You've engaged him to go and find out whether there's problems in the roof. He says it would make your hair curl what he finds up there, then he can't get paid.

GREG COMBET: I understand his claims are to do with some of the earlier work under the program, but there are more people than that working on this. We've paid, since the closure of the old program, in excess of a hundred thousand claims. There are something around 50,000 claims outstanding. A significant number of those, for example, this is a type of problem that we've got to work our way through. A significant number of those are claims that have either not been filled out correctly…

STEVE PRICE: But he's claiming for electrical work done checking on whether the stuff's safe or not. This is not a roof installer with insulation.

GREG COMBET: Well, when we're organising inspections of the foil insulation and people were able to organise an inspection with an electrician - just give you another picture of what we've had to handle - some of the original installers in Queensland sold their customer lists to various contractors who then went and, you know, did direct marketing campaigns with households who'd had the insulation installed. And we had no record of who they were, who was doing the inspection; and yet, we've received an invoice.

We simply have to go through this methodically and carefully and make sure that we are paying appropriate claims. That particular fellow, when I heard - I think he'd been on your show yesterday…

STEVE PRICE: Yep.

GREG COMBET: … we followed through, and I've been advised by the department that his claims have now been processed, so he should be paid soon. But…

STEVE PRICE: Just remind me if you can…

GREG COMBET: … you know, to avoid cases of improper claims or potentially even fraudulent claims, we've just got to work through them carefully, but pay them as quickly as we can.

STEVE PRICE: Just remind me again how much - how many taxpayers' dollars were wasted on this scheme?

GREG COMBET: Well, it's not all wasted. I don't think that… it's about one and a half billion that's been expended, but the overwhelming...

STEVE PRICE: One and a half billion?

GREG COMBET: Yes, but the overwhelming majority of homes that have insulation installed are as we've found as we've gone around doing the inspections and the fact that many reputable firms were involved in this and did the installations prop…

STEVE PRICE: We've got the MFB telling us sixty-f…

GREG COMBET: It's important to make the note, the overwhelming majority was done appropriately…

STEVE PRICE: Well, hang on; the MFB's saying 64 house fires this year compared to seven last year. How can the scheme have been any good?

GREG COMBET: Oh, I'm not downplaying the fact that there are problems we've got to deal with; I think that's pretty well known. But it is important - and it sometimes gets lost in all this - that it is clear, and the evidence that we've got before us says that the overwhelming majority of homes were appropriately installed.

Having said that, there's a lot of homes that we need to get around and still inspect and make sure that they are safe.

STEVE PRICE: All right. Appreciate your time.

GREG COMBET: No worries, Steve - thanks.

ENDS