LYNDAL CURTIS: Simon Birmingham, welcome to News 24.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Thanks, Lyndal.
LYNDAL CURTIS: The Government’s said it’s done all that it said it would do and now’s the time to look at winding up the program. Should it be doing that now?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, in winding up the program now the Government will be leaving one million homeowners with no answers as to what the status of the insulation in their rooves are. We know…
LYNDAL CURTIS: But that’s not right. It’s leaving its hotline up for another year after it thinks it will have completed the inspections it said it would do so homeowners, if they have a concern, can still ask for an inspection, can’t they?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: And has the Government got a clear estimate of how many of those homes there are problems in and how they will rectify those problems if they exist? We know from the Government’s work to date that 24 per cent of the 150,000 homes inspected have faulty insulation of some sort…
LYNDAL CURTIS: But it says 24 per cent have not met the building codes. That doesn’t necessarily mean there’s a fire risk or there’s a real risk.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: No and I’m certainly not wanting to create alarm and suggest that it’s a fire risk but in 24 per cent of cases taxpayers have not got what they paid for under this program. Homeowners have not got what they expected under this program and that was a quality fitting of insulation that’s up to the job, up to the standard, and installed properly. Now, that’s 24 per cent of 150,000. There were 1.2 million homes that took advantage of this program, more than a million homes not inspected we don’t know what proportion of them have problems and we certainly don’t know from the Government what their plan is to rectify those problems where they exist.
LYNDAL CURTIS: But in this program isn’t it important to compare what happened with the Government’s program to what happened before the Government’s program? Is it possible to say whether, in what was a largely unregulated industry, that there may well have been a quarter of homes that had insulation installed before this program that also didn’t meet the building codes?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, in many ways, Lyndal, that goes back to the utter recklessness of the Government in starting this program to start with. The Government was warned initially that there was a lack of skills in this industry and that there was a risk to actually running this program. Peter Garrett and the Cabinet chose to ignore those warnings and they went ahead with a program that has ultimately seen a couple of hundred homes damaged by fire, jobs and businesses destroyed, sadly the lives of some installers taken through some means that are still under investigation and $1.7 billion of taxpayers’ money, much of it wasted on installations not up to standard. This has been one of the greatest debacles in Australia’s public policy.
LYNDAL CURTIS: You say ‘much of it wasted’ but even on the figures that say 24 per cent of the homes inspected didn’t meet the building standards, so couldn’t you also say that three-quarters of the homes didn’t have a problem?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well I don’t think that a three-out-of-four strike right is good enough when you’re talking about spending taxpayers’ money not when you’re talking about spending $1.7 billion of taxpayers’ money. The Government’s had to spend more than $200 million running this inspection program, cleaning up its own mess. This should never have come to this and Australian taxpayers will rightly ask why we’ve seen such a profligate waste of money in regards to this insulation program.
LYNDAL CURTIS: While there were problems in the insulation program that you have referred to and a number of deaths as well as house fires, will we end up at the end with a program that will eventually come in under the budget it was first given and with an industry that is better regulated with installers that are better trained?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, we have an industry at present that in many ways is decimated. Many of the long-standing businesses that were credible and did good work have found themselves going out of business as a result of, of course, the enormous damage to the reputation of the insulation industry that this program ultimately did. We, of course, have 24 per cent of those inspected home owners out there and countless numbers of the other one million homeowners who have something in their rooves that’s not up to the standard they expected, so it is a failure on any level you want to look at this program. Yes, there are some people out there who’ve managed to get appropriate, fitted, quality insulation in their homes that’s great but it’s come at an enormous cost to taxpayers, to the insulation industry and to the homeowners who’ve missed out on getting what they thought they were having installed.
LYNDAL CURTIS: Does this program show one of the problems with the Government’s trying to pick winners and pick industries it wants to fund like this and won’t you under your Direct Action Plans for climate change mean you have to be very careful with the way you structure programs to avoid these mistakes?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Government always needs to be careful with how it structures programs and we have a track record in government as a Coalition of carefully managing taxpayers’ money and ensuring that programs we run are appropriately managed. This was, in many ways, a Government that picked a program off the shelf that was ill considered, ignored the warnings and advice that they had and proceeded to go ahead and super charge an industry that was ill equipped to be able to do what the Government was asking it to do. I can assure you that there’ll be far more rigorous assessment of any program under a Coalition Government then there was of the Home Insulation Program under this Labor Government.
LYNDAL CURTIS: Simon Birmingham, thank you very much for your time.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: A pleasure, Lyndal.