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Thursday, 30 September 2010
Page: 478

Senator MILNE (2:18 PM) —My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency, Senator Wong. Minister, given the scathing analysis of the Green Loans program in the Auditor-General’s report tabled yesterday, what assurances can you provide the Senate that its replacement, the Green Start program, will not be beset by the same problems? In particular, how is the government addressing the questionable integrity of the assessment tool so as to restore public confidence in the value and accuracy of home sustainability assessments?

Opposition senators interjecting—

Senator WONG (Minister for Finance and Deregulation) —I hope the tactics committee gives Senator Macdonald a question at some point. Senator Milne, the government welcome the release of the Audit Office report. We accept its findings. As you will recall, when I was the minister for climate change I made a ministerial statement and a range of decisions in relation to this program. The government—

Opposition senators interjecting—

The PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Wong, please resume your seat. People who want to constantly interject are just constantly interrupting the conduct of question time. It is disorderly. I call the minister.

Senator WONG —It is obvious that the Green Loans program suffered significant failings, particularly in the design and early implantation of the program. Obviously this is unacceptable. It should be noted that the findings of the Audit Office obviously largely relate to historical issues with the program. Many of these issues have previously been traversed in the reports which were released by the government prior to the election, which include the report of Ms Patricia Faulkner. The government has used the lessons identified in those reviews to remedy legacy issues within the program and significant progress is being made. My recollection is that the report itself in fact makes no further recommendations in relation to that program, which does signify that the government is taking action and the department which is now responsible is taking action in accordance with the findings of the Audit Office report. I understand that Minister Combet has appointed Mr Dreyfus to assist him in relation to this program.

In relation to Green Start, I am advised that the release of the report does not have any immediate impact on the delivery of the Green Start program. I am also advised that the Green Start program has been informed by the lessons identified in past reviews. (Time expired)

Senator MILNE —Mr President, I have a supplementary question. I thank the minister for her answer, but the question I asked was: how can we be assured that the Green Start program will not be beset by the same problems, particularly in relation to the assessment tool? The Auditor-General did say that the assessment tool was inaccurate. How is that being addressed? Further, how are you addressing the fact that the majority of assessors have been trained by unregistered training providers and that there is no process for assessors to demonstrate their competency against national standards before undertaking work with Green Start? How are you actually addressing both of those things? (Time expired)

Senator WONG (Minister for Finance and Deregulation) —In relation to the first part of the question, I did go to that at the end of my answer, Senator Milne. I did indicate that Green Start has been informed and designed in light of the lessons identified in past reviews. If I can I will provide you with any further information that is appropriate. From recollection, there is a tender round or an application round in relation to that program and we obviously may well be constrained about what is in the public arena in relation to any commercial arrangements, but if I can obtain any further information I will.

In relation to the other matters, these go to a range of legacy issues. Many of them have been discussed in this chamber before. I think I was, in my ministerial statement, very upfront about a range of the concerns—training standards was one of them—and the government will continue to address those. (Time expired)

Senator MILNE —Mr President, I have a further supplementary question. I appreciate the concentration on the legacy issues but I am looking forward to the Green Start program and I would like to ask: is the government aware of allegations that certain companies who have applied for a contract under Green Start are already cold-calling ahead of the program’s commencement to build databases in order to get around Green Start’s prohibition on cold-calling? What is the government doing to make sure that these companies are not avoiding the regulations and getting into the same problems we got into before?

Senator WONG (Minister for Finance and Deregulation) —Senator, if you have allegations of anything untoward occurring I would invite you to provide those to Mr Combet. Obviously the government would receive that information and would try and take appropriate action in relation to any complaints raised. I am not aware personally of the practice that you have identified. I am aware of that previously having occurred and the government taking steps to avoid its recurrence. But if you have evidence of activities which are of concern or inconsistent with government policy I would suggest you should provide those to Minister Combet.