ALEXANDRA KIRK: Coalition senators who formed a majority on the Senate inquiry want a royal commission into the home insulation program. They say the scheme was open to an unacceptable level of fraud and abuse and the Government had “clear and unambiguous warnings” that rolling out such a big program so quickly would be problematic.
The inquiry also recommends every home that had insulation installed under the program be inspected for fire and safety risks.
Liberal Senator Simon Birmingham says the Opposition is determined to get to the bottom of the insulation debacle.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: This is one of the most spectacular failures of government in a long, long time.
The home insulation program has cost lives, cost homes and wasted a billion dollars-plus of taxpayers’ money.
This is something that we need to get to the bottom of and unfortunately Government ministers and the Government generally have at many stages of this Senate inquiry obfuscated, avoided appearing, avoided releasing documents.
A royal commission is the best way to get to the bottom of all of the issues that continue to surround the home insulation debacle.
ALEXANDRA KIRK: So you’re not saying that a royal commission needs to be held because of the seriousness of the problem but because you weren’t able, the Senate inquiry wasn’t able to get the information that it wanted. Is that right?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: A royal commission would have the powers to expose all of the issues, expose just how much pressure came from the top of the Labor Government to push this scheme out faster than was safe.
ALEXANDRA KIRK: You maintain that the public servants failed to comply with your Senate inquiry’s requests to release all the briefings and relevant information to test the allegations that junior to middle ranking departmental officers issued repeated warnings and early on to senior departmental staff.
You have no proof that that’s the case, do you?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well there are many allegations coming out of whistleblowers within the Department of Environment that they provided warnings early on.
Understandably though these people are reluctant to go on the record at a public Senate inquiry without the protections that can be afforded of a royal commission that would have the powers to go to the very top to prove beyond doubt that such allegations are true or not true.
Plenty of evidence points to the fact that the Government failed to listen to the warnings and heed warnings sufficiently early on.
But what we can’t get are clear answers from ministers about what discussions they had between themselves and with the highest officials in their departments. They’re the questions that a royal commission could manage to answer.