Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.

Rudd pressured to release home insulation scheme warnings

UPDATE: Pressure is mounting on Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to release warnings he received about the botched home insulation scheme before and after the deaths of four tradesmen.

But the Federal Government has not heeded calls to release the information, some of which is believed to be protected by Cabinet in Confidence laws.

Queensland Coroner Michael Barnes on Thursday slammed the Federal Government for its speedy implementation of the Home Insulation Program, which led to the deaths of three young men in Queensland and one in NSW.

Mr Barnes - who headed the inquest into the deaths of Queensland tradesmen Mitchell Sweeney, Rueben Barnes and Matthew Fuller - said the physical dangers, damage to property and fraud risks should have been obvious.

He pointed the finger at the then-government, led by Kevin Rudd during his first reign as prime minister.

Mr Rudd apologised to the dead men's families and said the government accepted the coroner's conclusions.

Shadow Environment Minister Greg Hunt said while Mr Rudd's apology was the first step, the Prime Minister must release the warnings he received regarding the HIP.

"An apology is a start but if we are to ensure there is no repeat of such a program, then full disclosure from the Government and Prime Minister Rudd who oversaw the rushed roll-out, is essential, particularly in light of the damning findings from the Queensland coroner," he said.

The sought after documents include letters from then-minister Peter Garrett, departmental warnings and cabinet committee discussion records.

Mr Hunt said Coalition leader Tony Abbott wrote to Mr Rudd last week asking for the documents.

Federal Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus told ABC Radio on Friday morning the issue was not about releasing documents.

"I think it's about what the inquiries have been - I'd invite anyone who's interested to look at a very deep and searching inquiry that was conducted by the Auditor-General," he said.

"But I also think what we need to keep in mind is that the employers of these three young men, that the coroner's been looking into their deaths, were all prosecuted, all convicted and all given very heavy penalties and that's because they failed to provide a safe place of work."

 

EARLIER: Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has apologised to the families of the tradesmen who died as a result of his bungled government's "pink batts" home insulation scheme.

Speaking  on Thursday night in Jakarta, he said that he could not begin to comprehend the grief of the parents affected by the "unspeakable tragedy".

"As the Prime Minister of the country, I am deeply sorry for what has occurred and of course I apologise for these deaths, given that it was a government program," he said.

Queensland's Attorney-General and Minister for Justice Jarrod Bleijie sheeted home the blame to Mr Rudd yesterday.

Coroner Michael Barnes found the Federal Labor Government's rush to conceive and implement the program contributed to a lack of proper safeguards, which in turn contributed to the deaths of three Queensland men.

"My heart goes out to the loved ones of Matthew Fuller, Rueben Barnes and Mitchell Sweeney," Mr Bleijie said.

"These three young men lost their lives because of a chaotic, rushed and underdone Federal Government policy.

"Kevin Rudd took ownership of the scheme under his first Prime Ministership and the responsibility should lie with him."

Rueben Barnes
Rueben Barnes

Resources and Energy Minister Gary Gray says the Commonwealth will carefully consider the recommendations of the Queensland Coroner.

The Minister has also expressed sympathy for the families of the three men, who died while installing home insulation under a Commonwealth program that was part of the Government's fiscal stimulus program in the wake of the global financial crisis.

In the latest of a series of reports into the Home Insulation Program, Mr Barnes found its administration led to "an increased risk of harm'' and that this was partly due to the speed of the rollout.

He also said State and Territory laws had failed to adequately protect workers.

Mr Gray said he accepted the observations and noted that Mr Barnes had accepted that the Commonwealth had already acted on the earlier reports into the program, including extensive examinations by former senior public servant Allan Hawke and the Australian National Audit Office.

But he said any workplace death was a tragedy and that the Commonwealth would carefully examine the Coroner's observations.

"These deaths are tragic and my sympathy goes out to the families of these young men. No-one should die or be injured at work," Mr Gray said.

"The government will always take workplace safety seriously.''

In part, the report recommended that the Queensland Government's Office of Fair and Safe Work highlight the dangers of electrical safety in roof cavities through a public awareness campaign.

The Coroner also recommended that the Queensland government progress a proposal for the extension of mandatory safety switch installation.

He also said the Coroner had noted the Commonwealth Government's swift response after it became apparent that State and Territory safety laws had failed to protect workers.

The Coroner did, however, criticise the Commonwealth for relying on administrative arrangements, rather than specific legislation, to support the program.

Mr Gray said it was not uncommon to rely on State and Territory legislation where the Commonwealth may not have constitutional power to legislate to cover an entire industry.

"In this case, the Commonwealth had limited powers to legislate for specific industry safety requirements and relied on state safety legislation.

"Commonwealth legislation would have duplicated State and Territory laws and there was no indication that the existing laws were inadequate to ensure worker safety," Mr Gray said.

The Government worked closely with industry and State and Territory workplace safety authorities to ensure that the Home Insulation Program exceeded minimum safety requirements in each state.

For the first time a national approach to insulation material and installation was adopted by the industry.

"Because safety was a paramount concern of the Government, we continued to consult with industry and make the requirements of the program more and more stringent as the program progressed,'' he said.


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