JOE O’BRIEN: As we’ve been hearing this morning, the Electrical Trades Union has raised concerns about home insulation installers inspecting their own work under the new Government scheme. For more, the Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Climate Action, Senator Simon Birmingham, joins us now from Canberra. Senator Birmingham, good morning.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Good morning, Joe, good morning, viewers.
JOE O’BRIEN: Now, a lot of these installers are really struggling now. We just heard from one of these installers this morning, they’ve got huge financial commitments they’ve made in this industry and now they’re having to sack workers. What should the Government be doing to help these companies?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Joe, this is the latest in this saga of human tragedy that has evolved under Peter Garrett’s Home Insulation Program. I saw your interview before with Tony from Eureka Insulation and my heart goes out to people like Tony because no doubt there are many, many people who have been involved in the insulation industry, not just for the last 12 months of this program, but for many years many years prior to Peter Garrett supercharging this industry with his insulation cash hand-out and unfortunately for people like Tony and their employees they are doing it extremely tough at present and the Government, having now just pulled the rug out from underneath them, is leaving them languishing for a period of months. It’s one thing for them to be offering some emergency retrenchment assistance for a few employees but it is the employers who need to be supported, who need to be ensured that they can stay in business until of course we get some type of replacement scheme up and running. But this is just another example of the litany of failures in this program, all of which were foreseen in the two Minter Ellison reports that the Government received way back in April of last year.
JOE O’BRIEN: So, specifically what should the Government be doing to help those businesses right now?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Joe, it’s up to the Government to work out the right type of support mechanism. The Government has of course over the last couple of weeks reacted very rapidly without any real consultation with industry in a fairly knee-jerk sort of fashion. They firstly cancelled the foil insulation rebate. As a consequence of that, the foil insulators started to go out of business. Then when the pressure continued to build, and the examples of mismanagement under this program continued to build, they cancelled the entire program. They did so without going through manufacturers and with reputable businesses the types of things that those businesses might need to actually stay in business. So Peter Garrett, rather than defending himself continuously, should actually, if he’s going to cling on to being Minister, should be bringing companies like Tony’s to Canberra to sit down with him so they can tell him what it is they need to stay in business so that we actually still have some sort of insulation industry left in Australia by July.
JOE O’BRIEN: Do you believe the Government may be exposed to compensation claims from these companies?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: The risk of compensation was something, again, highlighted by the two Minter Ellison reports the risk of compensation from home owners who might suffer fires, the risk of compensation from the families of workers who tragically have been electrocuted and the risk of compensation claims from businesses who have been so stuffed around by this program, that supercharged their industry and has now totally pulled the rug out, that indeed there is an enormous potential here. But I come back to the point that once again it was foreseen, the risk was foreseen… Minter Ellison, in independent advice to the Government provided on April 9 of last year, foresaw those risks and told the Government about them, and yet the Government failed to act appropriately and the buck must stop with Peter Garrett.
JOE O’BRIEN: With this safety audit process, who should be going out and checking the safety and the quality of the insulation of these batts?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: The Electrical Trades Union makes a very good point that in sending out the people who did the insulation in the first place you have to question whether they are going to of course undertake a fair and thorough inspection of their own work. We don’t ask students to mark their own work at school. We shouldn’t be asking installers to mark their own work as to whether it is safe and whether it is up to standard. These are very serious problems. Again, the Government has potentially a thousand or so electrified rooves as a result of their mismanagement of this program but they have no clear plan as to when each and every roof fitted with foil insulation will actually be checked to ensure that those homes aren’t actually a massive safety trap for anyone who happens to go near the roof or ceiling.
JOE O’BRIEN: You’ve been calling for Peter Garrett’s resignation. Will the Opposition now commit to similar Ministerial principles if a Minister is warned several times of potential problems with a program and goes ahead regardless, with problems then occurring, that that Minister will resign? Will you commit to those sort of principles now if you win government?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Joe, I’ll let Tony Abbott put the policies down for the whole Coalition as to the standards of Ministerial responsibility…
JOE O’BRIEN: Well, it’s a suggestion… is that something you would agree with in principle?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: … but I’ll be quite happy to say that if I have the privilege of serving I would expect to be held to the types of standard that we are, as a Coalition, holding Peter Garrett to, and that is that… he was warned, not just once or twice… we have 21 documented instances where he was warned. We have now reports that went to Government that foresaw all of the problems that eventuated with this scheme and the consequences of not acting on those warnings appropriately have been dire with four tragic deaths, 93 house fires and tens of thousands of homes fitted with inappropriate insulation, leaving a thousand-plus potentially at risk of electrocution and fire.
JOE O’BRIEN: Okay, Simon Birmingham, thanks very much for talking to us this morning.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Any time, Joe.