Simon Birmingham : (South Australia) (3:26 PM) -Sadly, this Home Insulation Program has become one of the greatest tales of ministerial incompetence that this parliament has seen. It does not just surround one minister-poor, hapless Minister Garrett, who has been the focus of so much of the attack. Indeed, from the very top to the very bottom of this government, ministers and officials stand condemned for the way that they have implemented this program. I say ‘from the very top’ because we know that the decisions around rushing in this home insulation scheme were taken at the top. They were taken by the Rudd government ‘kitchen cabinet’: the fabulously entitled Strategic Priorities and Budget Committee, the SPBC, of the cabinet. It comprises just four individuals, four individuals who run this government on a day-to-day basis: the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister Gillard, Treasurer Swan and the Minister for Finance and Deregulation, Mr Tanner. They are the four who made these decisions. We know that because it was the SPBC, the kitchen cabinet, that made all the decisions about the economic stimulus measures that were taken in late 2008 and in 2009.
They made the decisions-the four most senior people in the Rudd Labor government. They left Peter Garrett hanging out to dry. They are the ones who stand condemned. It is little wonder that Peter Garrett kept his spot in cabinet through all of this-those four people would certainly not have wished to have been held to account themselves. We know those four people ignored the advice of the Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts, which suggested a far more modest approach that would have stimulated existing businesses in the home insulation market-those who knew what they were doing. The environment department recommended something that would not have brought in all of those shonks and fraudsters that Senator McEwen was crying about before. The environment department knew there could be a model that would not bring them in. Yet the department were overruled by the Rudd government, by the kitchen cabinet, because they wanted to spend more money faster, they wanted to push cash out into the economy, and they did not care that doing so would undermine safety in this industry.
The Prime Minister, whilst he was rolling all of this money out, decided that he needed a tsar to help do so-a stimulus tsar. The person he appointed was none other than Senator Arbib. Senator Arbib, for the last couple of weeks now, has looked seriously under pressure here. He obviously wanted Peter Garrett to take the heat; he did not want to take any of the heat himself. He did not want to take the heat because, as the stimulus tsar, he was in regular meetings about the implementation of the Home Insulation Program. He was at those meetings where the program was discussed, where risks were discussed. Indeed, the Commonwealth Coordinator-General confirmed to the Senate inquiry into the insulation program that the risk assessment undertaken by Minter Ellison was raised in discussions with Senator Arbib. Yet, miraculously, he comes in here and consistently claims that he was never told about risks of electrocution and fire. What risks was he told about when, he said, he was in meetings where risks were discussed? Why, when he knew that there was a risk assessment report, did he not ask to see that risk assessment report? Manifest neglect from Senator Arbib stands quite clearly in relation to this program. He stands as condemned as Minister Garrett and as condemned as the kitchen cabinet of the Rudd government, their top four officials.
We have had Senator Cormann highlight the informer from the Department of Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts who made it clear that they were told to go to Senator Arbib, not to their own minister. We have also had Senator Humphries, in starting this debate of taking note of answers, highlight that the government has changed the administrative arrangements around this Home Insulation Program as if that is some kind of magic solution. It is worth restating and reemphasising the points that Senator Humphries made in closing-that is, the Secretary of the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency, Dr Martin Parkinson, made it very clear last week that his department was no more qualified to implement this new program than the old one was. Dr Parkinson said it is not like the DCC had any expertise in this area-DCC is not a program manager. If it does not have the expertise, why is the government empowering it to do something that could end up being just as risky as the previous program?