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The Hon Peter Garrett AM MP
Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts

Government's home insulation program

E&OE Transcript
Interview with Ray Hadley, 2GB Mornings
31 August 2009

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HADLEY: As I mentioned earlier, the Federal Government has finally listened to complaints about the insulation grants program, the rebate. At around five o'clock on Friday afternoon, the Federal Environment Minister, Peter Garrett put out a media release, where he announced a tough new raft of enforcement measures for the home owner insulation program, boosting the comprehensive audit program already in place.

Most importantly, he announced a ban on quoting without the physical site inspection, and that led me to this in the first place.

As you know, I've been doing commercials for a mob, who I now regret doing commercials for, called the House Doctor. It was brought to my attention, despite assurances I had from other sources, that they didn't use Google Earth, but they did in fact use Google Earth as a way of quoting. Not the way to do it, I think the measures are long overdue.

Now the dodgy companies who've been putting their hands out, we don't know what action's going to be taken against them. The Federal Environment Minister, Peter Garrett's on the line, Minister, good morning.

GARRETT: Good morning, Ray.

HADLEY: We started talking to you about this a month ago, and I know you put the 1800 number in place, but I sense that perhaps you didn't know it was as widespread as I knew it was?

GARRETT: Well Ray, I think when I said to you last time that we had already a very strong compliance regime in place, we did. By the way, just very quickly, I put the release I think at 1.30 on the Friday, so it would have given people plenty of opportunity to know about the changes. But the fact is that this is a very, very popular program, it's strongly demand-driven, and you have rightly pointed out, as have others, that there are some allegations of people rorting the system, and I said it very clearly when I spoke to you last time, and I'll say it very clearly again, I take a very, very dim view of that.

So we have increased the compliance requirements under these new guidelines that I announced on Friday, and I think that that will additionally provide greater levels of comfort to people to know that installers will be doing the right thing when they put this ceiling insulation in peoples' roofs.

HADLEY: Okay, from the 1800 calls, we've been told that people are still waiting on responses from your department, but have you investigated any of the organisations that we've directed you to, to make sure they're actually doing the right thing?

For instance, on Thursday I got an email from a highly reputable company that I know of, who did work, submitted an invoice signed by the person they did the work for, only to be told by your department that the invoice was not to be paid, because that house had already been done. Now he assured me that no-one had done the house prior to him doing it, and he then investigated and found out that in fact the person had signed another document for another company.

So it does appear in some instances some of these companies, and it's pretty easy to become an installer, are actually doing — or not doing the work, but getting paid for work they haven't done.

GARRETT: Well Ray, again, all of the complaints that have been referred by your program to the department have been closely looked at. Some of them have been resolved, some of them are still being resolved. I don't know about that particular one, but again, I make it very clear, both to installers and to your listeners, if any installer is shown to be breaching the guidelines under this program, they can and will be struck off, we've got…

HADLEY: How many have been struck off now, as of today?

GARRETT: Well, none at this point of time, because there is a process for considering allegations which are made, but I'm very clear about this, that not only are we recommending — and I think you had Virginia Judge on the other day talking about the MOU that we've got with Fair Trading in New South Wales — but we will absolutely make sure that if there are any wilful breaches of the guidelines, that they're properly dealt with.

And look, the other thing I'd say is this: yes, you're identifying people who are alleging, and we've discovered that there may be some people trying to do the wrong thing with this program, this is a program which has already delivered to some 200,000 households, that's 200,000, and we've got about 500 complaints, it's about 0.2 per cent.

I'm not saying the complaints aren't important, they are, but they represent a very small component of a very successful program, and I guess my very strong desire, is to keep on employing Aussies, make sure this program runs out well, get on top of any rorting that might be happening there, and that's what the additional robust guidelines are about. And I just remind everybody that one of the reasons why we invested in this program was to drive ourselves through what then was a very challenging period for Aussies in a global financial crisis, it's done that job, and incidentally Ray, I do know that some of the bigger companies themselves will also be undertaking their audit programs.

Remember, I'm writing to everybody, every single householder, who received insulation. We'll have about 20,000 letters going out every week, that's a pretty large scale effort to make sure that if anyone's got any concerns, we can actually deal with them.

HADLEY: Okay, two other issues, here's — I'll give you a head start. The House Doctor, the embarrassing company that I advertised before finding out that they did Google Earth, and didn't do very good work, and stopped advertising for them immediately, so we could all be duped, one of the people they went to, very sensibly while they were up in the roof, grabbed their invoice book, and I have a copy of the invoice book in front of me, invoices 881 through to 890, I want you to listen to this carefully, these are the jobs quoted, and completed, and paid, by you.

Invoice 881, 130 square metres, $1600. Invoice 882, 156 square metres, $1680, Invoice 883, 140 square metres, paid $2,016, of which you paid $1600. These are the interesting ones, Invoice 884, 95 square metres, $1559.90, Invoice 885, 95 square metres, $1555.90, but the best ones are Invoice 889 and Invoice 890, 80 square metres, $1584.80.

So minister, here is a company charging exactly the same price for 130 square metres, as it charges for 117 square metres, or 80 square metres.

GARRETT: Yeah, look, Ray, those particular matters are going to be fully examined by the department. I would take a very, very dim view of any company, including this one, charging a rate for installing which clearly isn't proportionate to the rebate figure, and remember that one of the changes that we brought forward is to provide a specific pricing guide, scrutinising installers who charge above the upper limit automatically, so we'll have an automatic trigger in the guidelines that picks up on this behaviour. And those particular matters that you've referred to me, will be specifically inspected and scrutinised by the department.

At the end of the day, I still think it's important to recognise, given the big numbers of installations we've had, that most installers are doing the right thing. Any disreputable behaviour's totally unacceptable, I'm in furious agreement with you, and with anyone that rings in on that.

HADLEY: Okay…

GARRETT: I would say this: this is a program that's been going for what, seven or eight weeks, we have had a roll-out which is incredible in the size of the number of houses that we've got done. We want to make absolutely sure that there is no unethical, unfair or anti-competitive behaviour. We will pursue each and every measure. I encourage people to again come through to our hotline, these matters will be processed, they will be dealt with.

HADLEY: Okay, one final thing, Greg Hunt, your opposition spokesman on the environment, had a guesstimate on my program last week that $1 billion worth of batts are being imported either from China or the USA.

Now you'll neither confirm nor deny that, but we have run out of stock for all intents and purposes here, by the look of it, do you know how much is being spent in the Chinese economy particularly, for the insulation batts to be brought here?

GARRETT: Well, I can say that Mr Hunt's figure's wrong, Ray, that's one thing I can confidently say, and the reason for that is three-fold. Firstly, a significant number of local manufacturers, including people like AGI, are producing all their batts here, secondly, the instances that we've got of imported batts are basically around one particular kind of insulation, and it does meet the Australian standards.

Thirdly, remember the program actually goes to things like the solar hot water rebate as well, and finally, about 70 per cent of the value of this rebate goes in the installation, the packaging, the distribution and the transport and the likes, so yes, there are some imports, we're monitoring them closely.

I'm getting additional information through an independent audit on what we think the quantum of that is, but it is nowhere near that level, and frankly, I've got such positive feedback from the insulation industry, the credible insulation industry generally, that the program's succeeding…

HADLEY: Yeah, okay, will you ring me the first time that you withdraw the licence for someone to install, because even allowing for the fact that you've had so few complaints, there has to be someone out there rorting it, and surely they've got to be deregistered?

GARRETT: Look, Ray, again, my department will be back to you straight away, following up not only the matters that you've raised, but any additional actions that we take.

HADLEY: I'll give you a copy of all those invoices and invoice numbers for the House Doctor. Thank you.

GARRETT: Thank you for that, mate.

HADLEY: Peter Garrett, the Federal Environment Minister talking to us.

[ENDS]

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