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Wednesday, 16 June 2010
Page: 5567

Mrs MARKUS (4:57 PM) —I rise today to support the matter of public importance moved by the member for Flinders, the shadow minister for climate action, environment and heritage. It simply beggars belief that, in a nation like Australia, people could have their lives put at risk by a program organised and run by the Australian government. What makes it even more surprising is that no-one seems capable, willing or able to take ultimate and full responsibility for this failure of policy and administration which has lead to the deaths of four people, countless house fires and hundreds of thousands of potentially deadly roofs in every community across this nation. And the fear within the community that at any time their home might burn to the ground.

My community of the Hawkesbury and Blue Mountains is a community of climate extremes, blisteringly hot in summer and bitterly cold in winter. It is also one of the oldest communities in this nation, housing buildings which go back to the days of Lachlan Macquarie at the beginning of the 19th century. Many buildings and homes do not have insulation or have insulation which does not meet modern standards. Today I would like to speak about three situations in my own community. I will talk about people who took the Labor government at their word on insulation but today are disappointed.

Bligh Park is a suburb in my electorate. It is where my husband and I bought our first home. It is a typically Australian suburb. But in Chifley Place, Bligh Park, the Labor government was involved in the phantom installation of supposedly ‘nation-building’ insulation. A local realtor received a letter from the Labor government addressed to a Mr Chris Hoy in Chifley Place, Bligh Park. The letter reassured him that there had been a payment made under the Energy Efficient Homes Package of the economic stimulus plan to his installer, for insulation installed at an address he managed. The realtor was surprised, for two reasons: firstly, there is no Chris Hoy living in Chifley Place, Bligh Park, and there never has been; and, secondly, an independent inspection conducted by the confused property manager showed that no new insulation had been installed in the property in Chifley Place, Bligh Park. How incredible. Clearly, a canny insulation installer saw the ‘light on the hill’ in Chifley Place, Bligh Park, and diligently took it upon himself to rort government and deceive local residents.

The industry is also hurting from the Rudd Labor government’s failure in this area. On 19 February this year, the Rudd Labor government announced the cancellation of the Home Insulation Program pending a review, with an expected restart later this year. But, as we know, in April the Rudd Labor government ditched plans to restart the scheme and left hundreds of small business installation companies in limbo. In fact, it is estimated that 3,500 individuals with families, and mortgages and bills to be paid, lost their jobs.

Back in February, I spoke to John Halta of Pinnacle Insulation. John told me he had been forced to lay off six contractors and was unable to take on other work because, with $150,000 of stock taking up space in his warehouse, he has no room to undertake other work. This is a man with contractors relying on his industry and on his business, with a wife and four children, with a mortgage, with bills, with an investment for his family’s future. He was dismayed that reputable operators were being held accountable for the shonky activities of others, seeking only to cash in on the Prime Minister’s economic largesse. In fact, John Halta told me that the Rudd Labor government had ‘ruined the insulation industry and our insulation business’. The Rudd Labor government has destroyed a perfectly well functioning industry through its own policy failure.

Vulnerable people in my community were taken advantage of through this failed policy of the Rudd Labor government. As a local member I receive many dozens of calls to my electorate office on a daily basis. There is no doubt that the increased level of community concern over the insulation program fed into increased contact with my office—not just with my office but with many members’ offices. Community concern over this failed program runs very high. Talkback radio across Australia continues to discuss the failures of this policy and, now, the $1 billion being spent to clean up the appalling mess.

In my local community, two constituents who contacted my office had very specific concerns. One, Mrs Robin Muir-Miller of Windsor, contacted my office very distressed about the potential for a fire caused by the installation of insulation in her roof. Mrs Muir-Miller is extremely disabled and lives alone. She was deeply concerned that, in the case of a fire, she would not be able to flee her home in time. On Mrs Muir-Miller’s behalf, I made contact with Minister Combet, and an urgent inspection found evidence of shoddy work but, thankfully, little risk of fire. But, under the current rate of inspections, it could be up to seven years before every home is inspected. Mrs Muir-Miller was told that she should arrange for the original installer to redo the work, but she is reluctant to do that. She is fearful that, having botched the work the first time, they will botch it again. The question has to be asked: why should Mrs Muir-Miller be forced to pay to fix something that was not carried out properly in the first place?

Another constituent of mine, Mrs Howes, who lives in Bligh Park, also contacted me about the potential for a fire to start in her roof as a result of the insulation installation. She was concerned not only about the insulation but also about fraud. In Mrs Howes’s case, surplus batts were left in her ceiling, uninstalled. Mrs Howes advised that the company claimed to have installed 90 square metres of insulation in her roof. Further, Mrs Howes tells me that the company which installed the insulation advised her that if the existing insulation had been installed more than five years ago it needed to be replaced. Earlier today, Mrs Howes told me that she has now had all of the recently installed insulation taken from her ceiling. An inspection showed that the installation of the batts under the scheme was not done properly; some were cut up, others stacked incorrectly, and some were installed over fans—clearly a safety hazard. The previous, adequate insulation remains. This just proves what a shocking waste of money this scheme has been.

I have heard many examples from other parts of Australia, where people were told they could not sell their home unless it contained insulation installed under the scheme. The management of this program and the destruction of this industry and others in the environmental area—the solar industry comes to mind—have led to grave community concern and a growing lack of trust and confidence in this government.

In my local community, workers already struggling to meet rising costs of living—electricity, water and petrol—are now being taxed to pay for Labor’s inability to manage and implement policy initiatives. I know what my community could have better spent the $1 billion on. We could have improved our own local environment, meeting commitments made previously about the health of the Hawkesbury-Nepean river system. We could have invested in road safety upgrades and in urgently needed equipment for our hospitals and equipment for our volunteer emergency services.

This is a matter of great public importance, not just to my community of the Hawkesbury and Blue Mountains but to all Australians. The Rudd Labor government should be ashamed of its complete failure in this area and the loss of confidence felt by all Australians in the delivery of government services. Individuals like Mrs Muir-Miller and Mrs Howes, as well as business owners and those that they employ—people who are relying on the industry to provide a future for themselves and their family—depend on governments to make sound decisions and manage programs effectively. Sadly, these individuals and these businesses and the people who rely on them have been let down.