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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 John Stanley & Sandy Aloisi, 2UE Breakfast Sydney
2 November 2009

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ALOISI: We've spoken about problems previously with the Federal Government's home insulation program. The Government has now been forced to change it. So from today, the rebate for getting insulation in your roof is going to drop by 25 per cent to $1200 from $1600 and some safety changes have also been introduced.

But we've had some emails from people wondering how it'll affect them; they're sort of mid-contract and they're not quite sure whether it'll impact on them or not.

STANLEY: A number of aspects of this that need to be cleared up; I've got the Minister Peter Garrett on the line with us right now.

Good morning to you.

GARRETT: Morning, John, morning, Sandy.

STANLEY: I guess the obvious question to start with, apparently, if the insulation can be installed before the 16th of this month, then the $1600 rebate still applies, is that right?

GARRETT: That's right. If they've accepted a quote before the announcement was made, then they've got until the 16th to have the job finished. After that, the installer's got two weeks through to 30 November to lodge a claim, and that should give people who've accepted a quote every opportunity to get onto their installer and say, get it done in the next two weeks and then they'll be entitled to take the $1600 rebate.

I've just got to say quickly to Sandy's comment about the Government forced to; we weren't forced to do it. I think this is a good and proper measure for us to do it. We did it on the basis of consultations that we had with the industry which we've had in place since day one when we set this program up. It's a very successful program, but we do want to see good strong compliance and good strong safety measures there.

I've always said I'd add to them. I added to them on the weekend and I think they'll be well received.

STANLEY: Look, I just want to go through the practicalities of this first because I've got an email here - and I'm sure there'll be lots of these today - from a fellow he says he's booked out until January from people who have undertaken this work and he's got - he's booked out, as I say, until January. So what happens if he can't get the job finished by the 16th? He then has to redo the whole show?

GARRETT: If he can't get the job done by the 16th, then he will have to either consider requoting the job, or the householder will have to make up the difference, depending on what the price is between $1200 and $1600 or above.

Remember - and it's critical to remember here that the $1600 rebate wasn't a figure for the installation in the home, it was simply a maximum rebate figure that was provided by the Government.

Now, there are a number of jobs and quite a lot of installations are going from under that figure. My expectation is - and I notice this morning, Dennis D'Arcy from ICANZ, which is the Australia New Zealand Insulation Council, saying the same thing, that this will drive greater competition in the market and we will see installers reflecting the decisions that the Government has made.

And my expectation is that we will see a continuation of the program to roll out. Whether we'll see some price adjustments immediately or not, well, that's up to the market.

ALOISI: Well, I don't know if that's going to be the case. According to this email he says that if they have to go back to their customers and say, look, you're going to have to - we're going to have to requote for you, it's going to cause huge problems and to tell them that they're only going to be covered for $1200. And he suspects a large number of those customers will cancel on that basis.

GARRETT: Well, Sandy, you're giving me one email over the phone with one installer. What I would say is this: this has been an incredibly successful program. Just consider for a second, 500,000, half a million homes with ceiling insulation and an industry which has welcomed the incredible push and demand that's come through from this program and the jobs that have been created.

Now, when you make a change of this kind - and it is a change, by the way, that a number of people have thought was worthwhile and I said I'd consider it carefully and I've made it - you've got to balance the risk of a rush of compliance breaches that might take place, against the desire to give people as much notice as possible.

The insulation industry and insulation installers have been provided with a significant opportunity to build their business. My expectation is that (a) they'll recognise it and (b) they'll adjust.

STANLEY: How many of them though have looked at the 1600 bucks and said, okay, well, I can quote up to that because that's what the Government's fronting and so they've been charging that for jobs that are worth a lot less?

GARRETT: Well, John, there's been a lot of claims about it, but in actual fact, when you look at the number of complaints that we actually receive in terms of the totality of the program, they're quite small. And you might remember a couple of months ago I put in place what we call a market-based pricing guide. And what that does is it identifies an equivalent amount that the insulation should cost in terms of the ceiling space that you've got.

Now, anyone that goes above that as an installer automatically triggers an investigation. And I'm advised up to this point in time that we're not seeing significant spikes above the market-based pricing guide that we put in place as part of the guidelines.

But, by the way, if there are any instances of people thinking that they have been overcharged or they've been taken advantage of, contact my department, contact the hotline. We've got a really significant compliance mechanism in place now, we continue to pursue any installers who we think are actually breaching the guidelines.

And from 1 December, we'll actually have the capacity for a name-andshame for any installers that are taken off the register. If they breach the guidelines, if they're shown to conduct unethical or unfair behaviour, then they get removed from the installers' register, they can't install insulation any more.

STANLEY: What about all the extra controls you've put in terms of some of the things that were going in that had safety issues and the issue of people who are laying these things over the top of downlights, ceiling fans? How can people be sure that the work that's been done is actually okay, short of going up there and having a look at it themselves?

GARRETT: Well, we had safety and compliance measures in place from day one. It's always been a requirement for installers that they observe the Australian Standards. And I've always said to people, installers can't get paid until they lodge with Medicare, and they can't lodge with Medicare until the householder has actually signed off on the order form.

Now, I know with some older people it's not necessarily easy and I suggest they get a neighbour or a nephew or a son or a daughter to assist them. But people still need to check that the job has been done properly.

However, we've added to the Australian safety requirements and the state requirements by now making it mandatory for the installation of covers over down lights and appliances; we've got a ban on metal fasteners for foil insulation, which is quite strongly used in Queensland; and from 1 December, there'll be a mandatory requirement for two genuinely independent quotes. I think that'll assist both householder and the industry in making sure that the work that's done is of the best quality. We'll also require that a formal risk assessment is completed for every installation before the installer's allowed to start work.

I had discussions when we were in the Parliament last week with the industry, with the Master Electricians, with the Master Builders, the Housing Industry and others, and we all agreed - and the regulators - that this was a good next step, I always said I'd take them if necessary. And I believe now with these measures that we've announced that we will continue the orderly rollout, but there's additional safety and consumer protections there which would provide people with confidence that the installations they're getting are right.

ALOISI: Okay, Minister, we'll put out that hotline number for people who might want to give your department a call.

GARRETT: Thanks very much, guys.

ALOISI: Thanks for your time.

STANLEY: Peter Garrett there, the Environment Minister.

[ENDS]

Commonwealth of Australia