TONY EASTLEY: While last night’s Community Cabinet meeting might have given him a break of sorts, Environment Minister Peter Garrett can expect no let up from the Federal Opposition. A Senate inquiry into the insulation scheme has decided to call Department of Environment officials to appear before it on Monday. They’ll be quizzed about the multiple warnings the government received before it rolled out the massive insulation funding scheme. From Canberra, Alexandra Kirk reports.
ALEXANDRA KIRK: Kevin Rudd and the rest of his government are defending the Environment Minister Peter Garrett against a concerted attack by the Opposition which claims he’s overseen a trouble laden two-and-a-half billion dollar insulation program beset by dodgy installers, house fires and four deaths. Despite the Minister’s insistence that he acted assiduously by tightening safety requirements, suspending the use of foil insulation, banning the use of metal staples and most recently ordering electrical safety inspections for the 48,000 homes with foil insulation, the Opposition’s demanding he document all the warnings and all the action taken. Now a Senate inquiry into the insulation program’s decided to call public servants form Mr Garrett’s department to answer questions on Monday.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: To answer questions about what they knew, what their Minister Mr Garrett knew, what they advised him, what his actions were, to go through all of those details in step before Mr Garrett fronts the Parliament in Question Time again next week.
ALEXANDRA KIRK: Liberal Senator Simon Birmingham is a member of that Senate inquiry.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: This will be an important opportunity to get to the bottom of these issues and I call on the Government to make sure that those departmental officials appear, willing to release all of the information necessary to get to the bottom of exactly how many times Mr Garrett was warned, when he was warned and what action he took in response to those warnings of risks to homeowners and risks to installers under his home insulation program.
ALEXANDRA KIRK: There’s no guarantee though, is there, that the public servants will appear?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: There’s no guarantee that they will appear but I call on the Government to ensure they cooperate, to ensure they appear and cooperate with this inquiry. This is a critical issue into the deaths of four young Australians, into the risks to many Australian homes, and it is urgent, important for this government to make sure that its Environment Department officials, Mr Garrett’s officials reveal everything that they and their Minister knew about the risks that seemed to mount over many months under this program.
ALEXANDRA KIRK: Because you think that they knew something that the Government hasn’t revealed?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well there have been 19 known explicit warnings to different parts of the Government about this program, warnings that Mr Garrett should have heeded earlier and acted on to ensure that installers had appropriate training and knew what they were doing when installing home insulation. Unfortunately those warnings weren’t acted on. We want to get to the bottom of what discussions around those warnings took place, what other warnings there may have been, and importantly the Government must release this report by Minter Ellison this safety review that was undertaken and ensure that we can actually examine the details of it as to what the Government’s own commissioned report told it about the risks to safety.
ALEXANDRA KIRK: The Environment Minister’s office won’t say if Mr Garrett took a submission to federal Cabinet yesterday on a package of solutions to the beleaguered insulation scheme but the office says the Government expects the public servants will appear before the Senate committee on Monday.