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Tuesday, 30 September 2014
Page: 10764


Mr ABBOTT (WarringahPrime Minister) (15:12): When the government received this report about four weeks ago, I spoke briefly in this parliament and I indicated that I would have more to say by the end of the month. Thank you for indulgence to say a little more about this royal commission report. We did receive the report on 1 September, and the report from the royal commissioner, Ian Hanger AM QC, does provide victims' families with some long-awaited answers—answers that they desperately craved, given that four young men in the prime of life lost their lives as a consequence of this bungled program. In addition to the lives lost, homes were damaged or destroyed and many businesses were badly affected or ruined. So, Madam Speaker, we do owe it to Matthew Fuller, Reuben Barnes, Mitchell Sweeney and Marcus Wilson, and to their families, to ensure that this should never happen again. If we do not learn from the past, we tend to repeat it. So today I wish, briefly, to set out the government's interim measures as promised.

First, I have asked Minister Hunt to assume responsibility to oversee the Commonwealth response and to coordinate actions across departments and ministers. In this, he will be assisted by the Hon. Bob Baldwin, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Industry. He will provide updates to me and will deliver the final comprehensive government response by the end of this year. Madam Speaker, as you would probably recall, the report of the royal commissioner makes a series of findings about occupational health and safety. This program was a failure of government and it cascaded into failures in the workplace. I have asked the Minister for Employment to examine these findings, particularly as they relate to the reliance of the Commonwealth on state and territory laws, and his work will inform the government's final response. I intend, also, to raise the commissioner's recommendations to improve safety in roof cavities at the next COAG meeting.

Because the safety of people at work is, indeed, a national concern, it is a concern of everyone in this parliament and all governments should cooperate to ensure that people who go to work return safely home. Matthew Fuller, Ruben Barnes, Mitchell Sweeney and Marcus Wilson went to work and, tragically, they did never return home. The report makes it clear that their deaths could have been avoided had things been done differently. That is why Minister Hunt and the Minister for Finance have been asked to recommend options to compensate their next of kin. Although nothing can bring them back, the Barnes, Fuller, Sweeney and Wilson families should know that the government will not walk away; the government accepts responsibility and will do its best to make amends.

While nothing can compare to the pain of losing a child, there were other families who also suffered in serious ways. Pre-existing home insulation businesses large and small have suffered significant losses as a result of this program. They trusted government and were let down. So I have asked the Attorney-General, the Minister for Industry and the Minister for Finance to develop options for a scheme that will compensate those pre-existing businesses that were adversely affected.

The royal commissioner's report provides a sobering account of the role of government in developing and delivering policy and programs. It is a reminder of what can happen when there is a government-knows-best approach. I am confident that the processes of government have subsequently changed and improved but they can always be better. That is why I have asked Minister Hunt to recommend an external expert to examine and address the issues identified and the recommendations relating to the role of government in this tragic program. This expert will examine the role of ministers and officials in the development of policy and the delivery of programs to see what lessons can be learnt. An external report is necessary, rather than asking government or the public service to review objectively and comprehensively their own processes. The Minister for Employment, in this capacity as Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service, has been asked to consider an appropriate way to assess the report's findings about public servants against the Australian Public Service's code of conduct.

I do wish to stress that this is not a witch hunt but we do need to recognise that the Home Insulation Program was a tragic failure, a failure of bureaucracy and a workplace failure as well as a political failure. All of us should learn from this failure because there will be times in the future when governments believe that urgent action is required—but even urgent action has to be prudent, cautious and wise. Just like the royal commission itself, this interim response is designed to work out what happened, what could have been done better and what is necessary to prevent it from happening again. All of us should work to ensure that wiser decisions and better government become the ultimate legacy of this tragic program.