SONYA FELDHOFF: We’ve been waiting for these particular reports on the Green Loans scheme and I don’t think anyone expected that it would continue but now we have a definite time frame for the phasing out of this program, Simon.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: We have been waiting for these reports for some months.  I’ve pursued Freedom of Information requests and Senate orders and various means to get them released… I’m pleased to see they’re out… there is still one outstanding report, an audit by PricewaterhouseCoopers, that doesn’t appear to have been released today, but what has been released are a range of reports that are quite damning in their findings about the development of this program and the implementation of this program and it really shows that, just as with the home insulation debacle and a number of other programs by this Government, it has been an utter mess that unfortunately has left a multi-million dollar legacy that taxpayers have to wear.
SONYA FELDHOFF: I’m assuming that you’ve looked at these reports that have been posted on the [Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency] website, what do you see as some of the key failings?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: There are a range of key failings. Perhaps most serious are reports that on 149 separate occasions there were different breaches or issues with compliance with the Government’s own procurement and probity guidelines. So, in developing and implementing this program, the oversight was such that the Government could not even meet its own requirements around how it would procure services, how it would engage contractors… and the result of that is of course taxpayers pay the bill for bad deals and bad arrangements that weren’t in the taxpayer interest.
SONYA FELDHOFF: Do we know how many people actually benefited from this scheme at all?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: The number of loans that actually were delivered are infinitesimal compared to what was promised – the Government went to the last election promising 200,000 green loans… they’ve delivered I think around about 7000… so 7000 out of 200,000 is the figure there, so that in itself is an indictment. You have a number of people who’ve lost as a result of this… you’ve got the home sustainability assessors who invested their own time and money in training themselves, seeing this as an opportunity to set themselves up as a small business… they’ve lost out because the work that they were promised is just not there…  you’ve got householders, who thought that they could ascertain and get themselves a Green Loan but have had the loans component scrapped months ago…  they’ve missed out and it’s really dented the confidence in a lot of these environmental programs… and you’ve got banks, indeed, who it’s cost money from the loans part, that taxpayers ultimately are the ones who wear the bill for a $300 million program that like Pink Batts has been so seriously mismanaged.
SONYA FELDHOFF: On the website, not only have we heard about the phasing out of the Green Loans program, there’s talk of the Green Start program which is expected to replace this. Now, just a quick read of what that involves seems to still offer energy assessments, funded by the Government, for people’s homes, but no access to the loans, the interest-free loans that we saw as part of the Green Loans scheme. Is that a fair assessment of that, Simon?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, that’s probably about as much detail as you can derive from the statement, Sonya. I think what we saw today was a statement about Green Start – a rebadging of Green Loans – being announced really to mask over the release of these damning reports, because the statement itself about Green Start basically says it will have two components and then fails to detail in any meaningful way what those two components will comprise. So we’ll see about Green Start… the challenge for the Government, if they’re re-elected and get to implement this program, will be to see whether they actually do so in a manner that shows they’ve learnt the lessons from these past failings and the initial statement today, if this is the way they’re going to manage the Green Start program, with vague statements about its intent, really concerns me that they haven’t learnt the lesson of these failings to date.
SONYA FELDHOFF: Simon Birmingham, thank you for your time.