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

Inspection of foil insulation installations under the Home Insulation Program

Transcript
Press Conferenece, Parliament House, Canberra
10 February 2010

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GARRETT: Thanks for coming in at late notice, ladies and gentlemen of the media. I want to make an additional announcement in relation to electrical safety for foil insulation, and announce today that every home that has been insulated with foil insulation will undergo an electrical safety inspection as a consequence of the additional information that has come through to us in relation to the audit process that's currently underway in Queensland.

This follows findings from inspectors which have identified examples of live insulation in roofs. As of yesterday, the advice to me was that there was evidence of some five instances of live insulations on roofs on the base of 400 interim results of an audit.

It now seems that that figure is higher - it may be a dozen or more on the advice that I have.

And because householder safety is a complete priority for the program, that means that we want to make sure that every household that has foil insulation in it will have an appropriate safety inspection.

We want to do this in two ways. In the first instance, householders can engage a licensed electrician to conduct a safety inspection. Where necessary, rectification work to the installation can be undertaken. That means that householders won't be out of pocket for any inspection works - and the electrician can seek reimbursement of costs from the Commonwealth.

But beyond the immediate term, the Government will engage one or more organisations to ensure that all homes with foil insulations installed under the program are inspected; and, if necessary, any issues are rectified.

We will be writing to all homes that have had foil insulation installed under the insulation program, advising householders of the situation and their option.

A hotline will be set up and it will be available from 10 am tomorrow to provide information to affected householders. That hotline number is 131 792.

And electrical safety issues that are identified as a result of these inspections will be rectified. The Commonwealth will seek to recover costs of rectification from the installer, where appropriate, including by withholding payments for other installations that they may have put in place.

Installers that haven't complied with the program will be deregistered, as exists under the program at the moment. Their names are on the name and shame file. This is the third step that we've taken in relation to safety under this program.

These are steps that have been taken as a consequence of both receiving advice from the department, our negotiations and discussions with the insulation industry as a whole.

I won't hesitate to take any additional measures that I think are necessary to ensure safety. We banned metal fasteners in November of last year as a consequence of the use of metal fasteners in putting foil insulation in ceilings, and the potential risks that that produced.

We also require now that there's a mandatory risk assessment for all installers who are installing insulation in homes. And I've said constantly, and consistently, safety under this program is an absolute priority, and the steps that we're taking today will ensure that those householders that have foil insulation in their ceilings can be ensured that there will be any rectification of any safety issues that have arisen as a consequence of installers failing to follow the guidelines that have been set in place, and negligently or incorrectly installing foil insulation.

QUESTION: Will you step down? Four people have died. Should you step down from your portfolio?

GARRETT: In relation to the home insulation program, there are two terrible incidences of a fatality as a consequence of the use of metal fasteners. Safety is a priority for me under this program. And we have now insulated over 1 million homes in this country, under this program, in a roll out of insulation that has taken place in a period of a little over 12 months.

Each and every stage of that roll out, including the delivery of the guidelines, and the appropriate accreditations under that program, not only has been subject of advice that I've received from the insulation industry and the roundtables that we have, and from the department in respect of making sure that there's safe delivery, but also with the compliance and monitoring regime that's already underway, by identifying any breaches of this program.

And what I would say is this: we said we would deliver an insulation program to Australia, which will enable the reduction of costs, the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, and provide the fiscal stimulus that was necessary at the time. And we have succeeded, beyond any doubt, in doing that.

All through this program, when instances of behaviours on the part of installers - individual installers, or aspects of the program have emerged which require strengthening or toughening, we've taken those steps. And I will continue to do that where necessary.

I do it on the basis of advice that comes to me from my department. On the basis of the consultations that we have with the insulation industry. And clearly, in these cases of some five identified use of metal fasteners which are banned, under the guidelines of this program - where installers are not willing to take the responsibility to ensure that they follow the guidelines, and don't expose their employers to risk - we will name and shame them. They will be deregistered.

And any instance of that taking place is immediately addressed by the department. Now as well as that...

QUESTION: Minister...

GARRETT: As well as that...

QUESTION: ...[indistinct] you first warned?

GARRETT: As well as that - as well as that I want to make it very clear that I take safety absolutely seriously.

QUESTION: But do you take any responsibility or what's happened?

GARRETT: And on that basis we've announced these additional measures today.

QUESTION: Minister, [indistinct] was your department warned in April 2008 by other agencies, that's state and territory agencies, fair trading agencies, that this insulation program posed a risk to life and property, and was that advice passed on to you?

GARRETT: The advice that has come to me in relation to all the undertakings that we've made in terms of delivering the program, and any negotiations or consultations that we've had in relation to other departments or other state agencies, is that we have put in place a program that satisfies the necessary delivery, safely, of ceiling insulation.

And when issues have been raised, particularly by the electrical trades authority in relation to the use of metal fasteners - identified as an issue of potential risk - we moved to ban metal fasteners at that point. And in doing that, that particular action on my part was acknowledged by the industry and others as being the appropriate measure in this case.

JOURNALIST: Were you warned, Minister?

GARRETT: Well again, I say to you, the advice to me has been very clear. And that is, the guidelines that we've established for the delivery of this program are now above the level of Australian Standards, above the level that's required by the business code - the Building Codes of Australia, I beg your pardon - and apply a safety level, in terms of guidelines and the requirement for installers to conduct their businesses safely that is higher than it has ever been.

On that basis, given that any product that's installed in a roof must meet Australian Standards, and on the basis of the way in which those guidelines are actually a part of the agreement between the Commonwealth and the installer to do that work, it is the case that installing any of the materials that are appropriate and accredited under the guidelines, properly following the guidelines, will not produce any risk, to any household [indistinct].

JOURNALIST: [Interrupts] Some of the home owners will not know whether it's - what's been installed in their ceiling is foil or something else like pink batts. Will you cover the cost of those people concerned what's in their ceiling for any checks by an electrician to stop them going up into their [indistinct] themselves?

GARRETT: Look, I make the simple point to you, and I make to the public as well, and I've said it before.

People in a program of this kind, which is strongly demand-driven, which sees a significant amount of activity in the marketplace and in households, need to ensure that they check the bona fides of any installer who's proposing to do that work for them in their roof. They have access to all of the relevant information on the department website, and I strongly encourage them not to sign any work orders until that work is concluded.

JOURNALIST: But what of work that's been done?

GARRETT: And to ensure that they are aware of and satisfied that the work that has been done has been done satisfactorily.

Now if anybody has any issues with the potential problems under an installation under this problem, they are enabled to, and they do now, come straight to the insulation hotline and each one of those instances is followed up under the compliance program that we have in place.

Now we will continue to do that with all the other installations that are being undertaken right now.

But at the same time, we're now providing the opportunity for those people in homes where foil insulation has been actually put into the ceilings to be assured that the foil insulation that is in there is safe.

JOURNALIST: What are you saying to the families of the installers who died on the job doing this program?

GARRETT: Well I've already made that point that...

JOURNALIST: But what have you said - what would you say to their families?

GARRETT: Well, I've already made the point, and I say it again: any death, in any instance, under any government program is a matter of great tragedy for the families involved and a matter which I feel very deeply.

And we are in the process of ensuring that in relation to foil insulation, every householder that has that foil insulation in their ceilings can get a degree of confidence that the job that has been done is satisfactory.

But I add this point again: this is one of the most ambitious programs, in terms of delivery of energy efficiency that is happening anywhere to my knowledge.

JOURNALIST: Minister, did you receive a warning...

GARRETT: Just let me finish for a second.

JOURNALIST: ...early last year?

GARRETT: And in delivering over a million homes, in actually delivering that in a period of a little more than 12 months, we have consistently said if there's any official measures we need to bring forward to make sure that it's delivered more effectively and more safely, we will take those steps.

Now I took those steps last year in November; I took them again in December on the basis of the consultations and advice, and I'm taking them again today. And I'll continue to do that to make sure that we set the safety bar as high as it needs to be. It is now set higher than it has ever been.

And I say to those installers that they must observe the requirements under the guidelines. They cannot expose anybody to unnecessary risk by breaching those guidelines. Safety is an absolute priority.

JOURNALIST: How much will this cost, Minister? How much will these inspections cost?

GARRETT: That is a matter to be determined. It is a matter that will be met within the Home Insulation Program budget. At the end of the day...

JOURNALIST: Mr Garrett, do you feel any legal or moral responsibility to the people who've died installing this insulation?

GARRETT: My responsibility is to make sure that we have a program that delivers insulation into people's homes safely. We have set up a program that does that so long as those people who participate in the program observe the guidelines of the program properly.

We have set up monitoring measures and compliance measures to ensure that we follow up on every instance of non-compliance under this program.

If installers continue, as a very few number have here, to specifically breach the program guidelines and use metal fasteners in any instance in relation to foil insulation, they are in breach of the guidelines; they are completely going against the decisions that I and the Government have made to ensure safety.

And we will now go to the next step as necessary to ensure that all Queenslanders and others with foil insulation can have confidence that the foil in their ceilings is safe. And I have Question Time ladies and gentlemen.

JOURNALIST: Minister, a simple yes or no. Did you receive, or your department receive advice in April...

GARRETT: I must go to Question Time, excuse me.

[ENDS]

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