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Monday, 23 May 2011
Page: 3996

Mr HUNT (Flinders) (11:09): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

The Home Insulation Program (Commission of Inquiry) Bill 2011 is a response to a program which has seen, amongst many other things, 200 house fires, approximately 1,500 electrified roofs and a defect rate of 24 per cent across the 150,000 houses that have been inspected to date. That is an extraordinary level of waste that is almost unparalleled in the history of Australian budgetary programs. There must be a judicial commission of inquiry into the scope, the scale, the fraud, the failures, the warnings and the inability to act that has been associated with four tragic losses. This program has been a profound failure. When we heard most recently from the government it acknowledged not only a 24 per cent failure rate across more than 150,000 houses, but also that more than one million homes had yet to be checked. There was no estimate of the rate of failure or of defects in the insulation which had been installed in those one million homes.

I will briefly set out three things in relation to this bill: first, the need; second, the structure; and, third, the broader pattern of failure which necessitates more than ever a full judicial commission of inquiry into the failures of the Home Insulation Program. Let me deal, then, with the need. The program failed on many fronts. It failed to deliver the savings which were expected. We were told that it would lead to 50 million tonnes of emissions reduction between now and 2020. In fact, the government's own reviews have indicated that it will be approximately one-third of that. By its very raison d'être, the program has failed. Much more significantly, as an exercise in government probity, as an exercise in government management and, most importantly, as an exercise in government protection of people's homes and safety, the Home Insulation Program was a manifest failure of each and every aspect of the duty and responsibilities of a modern government.

This was a $2.5 billion program, of which $1.5 billion was spent installing insulation. But what we have seen is that 50,000 foil insulated homes were subject to safety checks and had either safety switches installed or had their foil insulation ripped out. Only a very small percentage of homes were not dealt with in either of these ways and that was primarily because the householders could not be contacted. This program led to 50,000 homes immediately being subject to the work effectively being scrapped at massive cost to the taxpayer. This program led to 150,000 homes being inspected at massive cost to the taxpayer. The program had a 24 per cent defect rate. Almost one in four houses was found to have been improperly treated and the installation improperly carried. That is an extraordinary rate of failure. We do not know what the rate of failure is for the remaining one million homes. The government claims that it targeted the highest risk homes first. Let us assume that is the case. Is the failure rate in the remaining one million homes 15 per cent, 10 per cent or even a mere eight per cent, or 80,000 homes? These are profound and large numbers because they represent tens of thousands of Australian householders who have been put at risk. We were mocked and ridiculed when, throughout July, August and September of 2009, we warned of each and every risk which came to pass. We called for an Auditor-General's review of the program over 27 August and 28 August 2009. The government rejected it. The government specifically wrote to the Auditor-General to indicate that no such review was necessary. The warnings from the opposition were clear and clarion and were out there for all to hear, but they were rejected by the government.

But more importantly still—and this is the reason why there must be a judicial commission of inquiry—the government received in excess of 20 warnings from its department and agencies, industry and the public about the risks associated with the program. As early as 18 February 2009 senior officials in the Prime Minister's office and the Office of the Coordinator-General received express and explicit warnings about the risk of electrocution, fires, cost overruns and poor quality in the program. The department recommended that the program be carried out over eight years, but it was the ministers, the inner core of this government—the current Prime Minister, the previous Prime Minister, the finance minister of the time, the current Treasurer, and the now-promoted education minister—who argued that they should override the departmental advice to proceed cautiously without haste and with maximum focus on safety. Those ministers have never been held to account, have never been subject to scrutiny and were not the subject of the Attorney-General's inquiry because that is beyond the remit of the Attorney-General. Those ministers were not given the accountability and responsibility tests which Westminster governance should require. So against that background of express, clear and manifest ministerial failure—which should have seen the termination of the commission of the then minister for the environment and now minister for education—we have seen a full failure of Westminster government to ensure that accountability and its associated principles have been put into place.

That is why this bill would inquire directly into what warnings and advice on the Home Insulation Program were received by ministers from industry, from Commonwealth agencies, from state and territory agencies and even from unions, not to mention members of the public and the opposition. The bill seeks inquiry into any decisions made by a minister to reject such warnings or advice, most notably, the five-year recommendation for a rollout, which was overlooked with tragic consequences in terms of the rate of failure under this program. It inquires into what the Home Insulation Program was required of in terms of Commonwealth offices and agencies, state and territory governments and contractors. These pieces of information are fundamental, should be in the public domain, but have never been released into the public domain. The ministerial process has been silent, it has been hidden and it has been done so in a way which has intentionally denied scrutiny, accountability and responsibility of the very people who demanded haste over safety and who have ignored the warnings of industry, the department, unions, the public and the opposition.

I finally put in context the need for this bill. The Master Electricians Australia, who warned of the risk of further fatalities on 16 October 2009, have warned of the same program risks and safety issues in relation to the government's set-top box program as part of the set-top box budget. Those people were ignored and shunned, but they were absolutely correct and they have made similar warnings now. Today we see that the other independent agency, the National Electrical and Communications Association, who also warned of risks of fire, fraud and fatalities under the Home Insulation Program, has pointed to the same risks under the government's hands-off approach to the Solar Rebate Program.

Both organisations, which warned of risks under the Home Insulation Program, which were ignored but were subsequently proven right, currently have extant warnings in relation to the repeated failures, which have now been imported into other government programs. The Home Insulation Program was also a tragic failure. It is time for accountability. This bill must be passed.