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Thursday, 30 September 2010
Page: 495

Senator MILNE (3:30 PM) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Finance and Deregulation (Senator Wong) to a question without notice asked by Senator Milne today relating to the Green Start program.

I want to talk about not the Green Loans program, because that has now finished or is winding down to the finish, but the Green Start program which is its replacement and begins at the end of the year. My big concern here is that all of the problems identified by the Faulkner report and by the Auditor-General’s report will just carry over into the Green Start program unless we get them sorted out, and I did not get an answer from the minister today about how they are sorting them out.

One of the big issues that the Auditor-General raised—and it was recognised in his report—was that the assessment tool that the assessors are using to determine the best combination of energy efficiency in a particular household is wrong. It is calibrated incorrectly. That means people are getting reports that are wrong and therefore they are spending money on this energy efficiency—whatever the report says—and it is not delivering them the best outcome. We do not want that rolled over into a new program. It has to be fixed up.

Secondly, the Auditor-General pointed out that the overwhelming majority of household assessors have been trained by unregistered training providers. There is a complete unevenness. Some are brilliantly trained and some are very badly trained. But the point is that they all paid about $3,000 for their training and it was the luck of the draw as to whether the person who trained them was any good or not. So now those people have a certificate, but it does not mean anything because it is not benchmarked against any particular quality controlling standards and those people are probably in the bidding right now for contracts under Green Start. It means that we are just going to repeat all the same problems over again unless we have some benchmarking of the training.

Furthermore, one of the big problems with Green Loans also was with people out there cold-calling, just knocking on the door, saying, ‘I am an assessor. I can do an assessment,’ or ringing up and accumulating a whole lot of clients to take this government program to. That has been banned under Green Start, but I am told that some of the companies that have put in for a contract under Green Loans are already out there, as we speak, getting on the phone, cold-calling, because they know it is going to be illegal once Green Start starts. They are now amassing a database in anticipation of getting the contract. This will be grossly unfair to the independent contractors, individual small businesses that may get awarded a contract under Green Start, get started and then find that some of these companies have already got a massive database in order. My issue is: we should have learned a lot from the failures under Green Loans and I am concerned that nothing is going to be done before we start with the new Green Start program and that this time next year we are going to be back here with another Auditor-General’s report saying that all the things that went wrong with that program have now carried over.

Finally, the Auditor-General made it clear that governance in the department was absent. It is an appalling thing to have to admit that in the department of the environment that was overseeing this program they just did not have appropriate governance processes in place and, as a result, the scheme was badly managed. Furthermore, the minister was not given timely or accurate advice. In other words, the department actually conned the minister, it would seem. What else can you say? They told the minister things were in place when they were not. They told the minister that things were being done when they were not. They even told him about the online booking system—yes, it was all due to start—and it had been cancelled for six months. This sort of thing went on in the department. How is that possible?

So I want to be sure that senior management understand that this time they had better oversee project management properly so that we actually sort out the problems with Green Loans before Green Start begins. And for those government ministers who are listening to me talking about this, for goodness sake get it right this time before it starts. It is a very important program for low-income earners and for energy efficiency and I want to see it work and work well and not be back here next year having to admit it failed.

Question agreed to.