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Interview with Madonna King, ABC Brisbane
2 November 2009
KING: Now, as you would have heard on the weekend, the insulation rebate has been reduced by $400 to $1200. No longer can metal fasteners be used for foil insulation, and that was the concern that many of you raised with me last week.
From next month, there'll be a name-and-shame list for dodgy installers; it'll be mandatory for you to get two quotes; and a formal risk assessment must be completed before any insulation work starts.
But the question you've had for me overnight is what does this mean for you? If you've already had foil insulation, should it now be checked? Are you up for the cost of that inspection? And what if you're buying a house today? If the house has foil insulation, do you need to have an inspection done to ensure the metal fasteners have been safely installed?
Peter Garrett is the Minister responsible, the Environment Minister.
Good morning, Minister.
GARRETT: Good morning, Madonna.
KING: The changes are this ban on metal fasteners and mandatory installation of covers over down lights and ceiling appliances. You say there'll be a targeted inspection program of Queensland homes with foil insulation installed starting with one in ten homes.
What will you be looking for?
GARRETT: We're looking to see whether there are any installers who have already installed insulation under the program who haven't properly installed that insulation, when it's been foil. It's something which is quite particular to Queensland, and we'll carry out those inspections in cooperation with the Queensland Electrical Safety Office and Master Electricians.
KING: Do you know how many homes in Queensland have used the foil insulation and the metal staples?
GARRETT: I don't have a specific figure to hand in terms of my advice, but about 20 per cent of the installations in the Queensland market in and around Brisbane are foil.
And what today's announcements are about and the announcements on the weekend, are taking up an extra level of protection than we've had. Although, as I think I said to you last week when we spoke on the phone, Madonna, all installers are required to follow the building code and Australian Standards.
But I think these additional measures that we've announced will mean that if there are any issues around the installation of foil that's taken place in Queensland, then we will be able to identify them and take corrective action.
KING: And I would be surprised if you didn't get several calls on the number you gave us last week because it did prompt a lot of concern and people saying they'd got electric shocks and the like.
Is it the problem that metal staples have been used or have been put in in a particular way?
GARRETT: Look, the advice that I have is that it's just whether by using the staples in a particular way the installers may or may not have properly followed the existing safety guidelines that are in place and the Australian Standards.
And I think here, when I convened a meeting of stakeholders, Master Electricians, the regulators, in Canberra last week, the issue was raised as to whether or not it was appropriate to consider an additional measure in relation to foil. I agreed that it was.
We've also, as you've I think mentioned, announced that there'll be a mandatory installation of covers over down lights and other ceiling appliances. Again, Australian Standards require that insulation go in in a certain way to provide appropriate distances around down lights and the like...
KING: All right, but...
GARRETT: ...that there's an additional measure there as to safety.
KING: All right. So what happens today? If you were in Brisbane, you're in southeast Queensland, you've had the foil insulation put in, you believe metal staples have been used, should you go and get it independently checked? Who pays for that?
GARRETT: Well, if you've got a concern about a matter in relation to the installation that you've received, in the first instance, it's the installer that you should be...
KING: Yes, but people have gone back to them; some of them are not even answering their phones any more.
GARRETT: Well, then they should make specific note of that and, as I said to you last time, get in touch with my department...
KING: They have.
GARRETT: ...a free call.
KING: They all have done that.
GARRETT: When that happens, that automatically triggers an investigation of the installer in question.
KING: Does it trigger an investigation into that home? Will that home then be looked at as part of your safety inspection program?
GARRETT: If the compliance and audit program identifies a particular installer and particular instances where there is a possibility that the guidelines have not been properly followed and adequately followed, then that will be specifically followed up, as it is if we have instances of people who are charging outside of the market price...
KING: Yes, okay, alright. It's more the safety that my listeners are concerned at.
People also even last night calling, some listeners I think in the case of Margaret, and saying, look, you've had your insulation in for years, unless it's only been in two years it's no longer effective, it's inactive.
Is that right or wrong?
GARRETT: Well look, I'm not here to provide advice to your listeners about installation that may have been...
KING: No, but is that in the guidelines of your program or not?
GARRETT: No, hang on just a tic. If anybody has concerns about insulation that may have been installed previous to this program, then they ought to get it checked, they ought to get it checked by a reliable tradesperson or an electrician. I think that's something...
KING: That's not my question. People claiming the Federal Government rebate saying if you had insulation and it's more than two years old, you need new insulation under the Federal Government's rebate scheme.
GARRETT: No, that's not the case. The guidelines for the scheme that provide people with the opportunity to get insulation installed are pretty clear and don't require - there's no two-year limit or otherwise in terms of previously installed insulation, Madonna.
KING: All right. If it's sufficient to only check one in ten of these installations, given the concerns, the complaints, should it be more?
GARRETT: Well, I think this is a start point for us, and we will see when we go through this process. It's about 2000 homes that will be inspected, and I think when we do that both with the Master Electricians and the Queensland electrical authorities, we will get a clear sense of whether or not there's a requirement for additional inspections to take place.
KING: So you're saying 2000 homes in Queensland?
GARRETT: That's correct.
KING: So, and if that's one in ten, that means 20,000 homes have had the installation?
GARRETT: That's correct.
KING: And are they all of foil?
GARRETT: We're speaking specifically about foil insulation here, that's right.
KING: So given the complaints, Minister, if 20,000 have had that foil insulation, what do you say to them this morning? What should they do?
GARRETT: If you've got a concern about the safety of the installation of insulation in your ceiling, in the first instance you should contact your installer to ensure that that's been properly done, if you've got an issue in relation to that.
If you're not getting satisfactory recourse from the installer, then you should contact the hotline. I advise anybody who has additional concerns about issues of safety to make sure that they take it up either with the Office of Fair Trading or if necessary or with an electrician.
One thing I just want to absolutely stress to you, Madonna, in this, and that's this: there have been safety measures and requirements under the guidelines in place from day one.
GARRETT: We increased those in September when we looked at a market pricing guide to make sure that we're actually getting fairness in the system.
When I look now at the advice that I have about quotations, what I see is that we are seeing basic levels of quotations come through in terms of this program which indicates that there are not large levels or high levels of people who are actually taking advantage in terms of the installation, in terms of pricing.
KING: All right.
GARRETT: And I just want to make the point that I expect the same thing will happen here. I expect that once we go through this extremely comprehensive audit process, as well as checking specifically these ceiling insulations, we'll be able to identify whether there are any particular installers...
GARRETT: ...who may or may not be doing that particular job properly...
GARRETT: ...and we can take the appropriate response.
KING: Minister, thank you.
GARRETT: Thanks very much, Madonna.
KING: That's the Environment Minister, Peter Garrett, 1300 222 612 is my number. Tell me if you get one of these random audits and what they find at your place.