HOWARD SATTLER: On this ‘Mad as Hell’ Monday, this will get you mad, too. Taxpayers are now paying out, or have paid out, more than $3.4 million in travel costs to fly insulation safety inspectors around Australia to check on faulty or dodgy insulation installations under the Federal Government’s failed $2,500 million – that’s $2.5 billion – Home Insulation Program. The bloke who’s told us about that joins us now – Simon Birmingham, who’s the Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for the Environment. Hello, Simon.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Good afternoon, Howard and your listeners.
HOWARD SATTLER: So we spent $2.5 billion installing these things, people thought we were encouraged to do so, four people died in the process, 200 house fires occurred and now we’ve got to pay out more money, right?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: That’s right. It’s a remarkable story, Howard, of waste piled upon waste, this one. Tragically, we had the Home Insulation Program, the ‘Pink Batts’ scheme as many people would recall it, billions of dollars – with a ‘B’ – being spent installing insulation across the country, many of them sadly substandard installation jobs, many of it substandard insulation itself, lives lost, numerous house fires, a lot of devastation and, of course, many, many businesses, in the end, including many reputable businesses who’d been in the industry for a long time, went ‘belly up’ – all thanks to the maladministration of the scheme. The concern…
HOWARD SATTLER: Alright, now, you can imagine flying people… or not flying people… people going and checking out these things to see if they’re dodgy but why’s anybody got to be flown anywhere?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: And this is the remarkable thing. When I first heard there was a travel budget related to this inspection program, of people going around looking at it…
HOWARD SATTLER: You thought petrol?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: I thought petrol, I thought perhaps flights to regional areas that… now, obviously, if you train people in Perth then you might need them to hop on a plane to a regional town where you’re only…
HOWARD SATTLER: Kalgoorlie or somewhere?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: … checking out a couple of places and don’t have too many to look at, so you can imagine my surprise when I asked for more details and eventually got some examples and we have people flying to Perth from Adelaide, from Brisbane…
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: From Brisbane – right across the country, right across our vast continent. They hopped on a plane from Brisbane to Perth to look in people’s rooftops and check that the insulation was installed correctly. Apparently there aren’t enough electricians…
HOWARD SATTLER: But we’ve got people here, don’t we?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, I know you’ve got a booming economy and a bit of a skills shortage in Perth but I would have thought you could still manage to find enough electricians, enough people who could be trained adequately to do the job properly rather than wasting, in the end, what’s tallied up to be more than $3 million of taxpayer costs in travel related to this inspection program.
HOWARD SATTLER: Okay, so what has the Government Department… what has the relevant Minister… I’m not sure who it is. It’s either Greg Combet or Mark Dreyfus – we haven’t been able to find that out. They won’t talk with us about it, by the way. What do they say about this?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, I’m yet to see a proper answer. They’ve, you know, highlighted that householder safety is the priority and the Opposition… we absolutely agree that it’s the priority and we…
HOWARD SATTLER: They should have thought about that before they started the whole thing!
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: They should have and they should have made sure they had decent standards in place from day one and they didn’t and so they’ve failed at that front. They originally claimed that travel was only authorised where it was necessary. Well, when we come back to Senate Estimates in a couple of weeks’ time, I’ll be asking just what exactly the definition of necessary was because I can’t see why these pages and pages I have of flights between capital cities was necessary for inspectors to crisscross the country at multi-million dollar expense to the taxpayer.
HOWARD SATTLER: Is $3.4 million what’s already been spent? I mean, if there’s more to come, how much more will it be?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Look, the inspection program is winding up so this is what’s already been spent and I wouldn’t expect to see it exceeded terribly much but, of course, that’s the tragedy of it – we pick this up right at the tail end of the program and so the money is wasted and we just have an example of a wasteful program being run to fix a wasteful program from this Gillard Government in the first place. It’s a remarkable series of, as I say, waste piled upon waste.
HOWARD SATTLER: How many inspections are they doing?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Look, the total number of inspections is around 15,000, I think, that have been conducted nationwide, so it’s been very…
HOWARD SATTLER: So that’s 15,000 suspect installations, is it?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: No, well, that’s… it’s all been sort of a random selection process and then informed by where they have seen a pattern of dodgy work by a particular installer or otherwise but it was many, many households who had inspections done… sorry, many, many households who had insulation installed, won’t necessarily have an inspection done, and they’ll just be left hoping that the job they got was good enough.
HOWARD SATTLER: Hoping? Hoping the place wouldn’t catch on fire!
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: It is sadly a case of households having to play the odds. Now, of course, this has been an expensive program at every step of the way – the damage to business has been costly, the damage to households has been costly and the damage to the federal budget and the taxpayers has been very, very costly.
HOWARD SATTLER: Thank you, Simon.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: No worries, Howard.
HOWARD SATTLER: Simon Birmingham, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for the Environment. As I said, we contacted two Ministers’ offices because we weren’t sure which one was responsible for all this but Greg Combet is the Climate Change Minister, Mark Dreyfus is a Parliamentary Secretary for Climate Change – they’ve got Ministers coming out of their ears dealing with this issue. Neither would talk with us. I wonder why? Probably couldn’t defend it in a million years.