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2UE Breakfast Show
11 February 2010
ALOISI: It's been an embarrassing 48 hours for the Federal Government and the Environment Minister, Peter Garrett, with more drama surrounding the roof insulation program. We spoke a lot about that this year.
On Tuesday, the Minister suspended the use of foil insulation because of safety concerns. You might recall that four people have been electrocuted installing foil insulation and other homes have reportedly become live with electricity, home owners warned not to go into their rooves because it could be really that dangerous.
Yesterday, Mr Garrett announced a safety audit of close to 40,000 Australian homes. That's going to cost taxpayers, we taxpayers, somewhere in the order of $50 million. It's been pretty much a disaster from the start. And in the past 24 hours it's emerged the Government had been warned about the risks of foil insulation as early as last March.
And that's the revelation that's caused the Opposition to, got the Opposition to call for Mr Garrett's removal.
The Environment Minister is on the line. Minister, good morning.
GARRETT: Good morning Sandy.
ALOISI: I've just read what seems to be a litany of disasters. You're the minister. Shouldn't you resign?
GARRETT: No I shouldn't Sandy, and I want to go back and correct a couple of things in your introduction. The first is that foil insulation wasn't specifically raised in the letter that was tendered in the parliament, and I gave that answer in the Parliament and pointed out what measures the Government had put in place in terms of training to deal with making sure that installers knew what the risks were when they did that installation.
Secondly, yes we have had four deaths, two of those linked to foil insulation. And we take the issue of safety very carefully, but I guess I want to take just one step back to where we are now, and that is simply this.
When we rolled out this program, we inherited an unregulated labour market and, in every instance, the laws that pertain to state and territories in relation to occupational health and safety, safety and other requirements, are a part of the framework of the program.
The consultations that I've had with the industry, the advice that I've received from the department over that period of time, from the inception of the program, led to me developing a nationally accredited training program for installation, strengthening a set of guidelines so that they are now above the Australian standard, above the building codes of Australia, and bringing in a series of measures to ensure that safety is a priority.
Now, we had no Commonwealth regulation in this area before...
ALOISI: Minister, can I interrupt you and say, it sounds to me like you're reading off a press release. I think people want to know, if you say that foil insulation was not raised in the letter sent to you last March, what were the safety concerns raised? Can you answer me that?
GARRETT: Well there's a range of safety concerns that have been raised in all of the discussions that have come forward with industry, and we've addressed them, and I think that's the important point in this program; and that is that we have actually created a safety regime for the installation of insulation on the basis of the negotiations and consultations that we've had with the industry and with safety authorities.
We've got a memorandum of understanding with state safety authorities at this point in time. We've got the requirements for occupational health and safety training in, in the first instance. We've strengthened the training requirements so we now have a nationally accredited training scheme.
ALOISI: So what were the safety issues raised that you say you've addressed?
GARRETT: Well issues, for example, in relation to whether or not there's appropriate training in place, whether or not in fact there's an issue about downlights and whether downlight covers should be included.
Now, all of these issues, including foil insulation, I have addressed when I've received advice from my department on the basis of the negotiations and consultations that they've had that we may need to take additional steps, and I've taken them, and I've taken them all the way through the program.
I mean let's just go back for a second here. When it came to my attention that there was an issue surrounding foil insulation, my specific request to the department was to make sure I had advice to me which identified whether or not it was appropriate to ban foil insulation in roofs and in properties, and also whether we should do things like banning the metal fasteners.
I've been absolutely clear that I want to make safety a priority. I banned metal fasteners on the 1st of November. I did that on the basis that I had other groups saying - like the Building Codes Board, Master Builders Association and others - saying to me that the risks associated with foil, proportionally no more significant than the risks associated with other retrofit constructions.
Now, I took the extra step to make sure that we had in place an absolutely rigorous training program. I can't legislate, Sandy and John, against those unscrupulous or negligent employers who don't properly follow the guidelines that I put in place as a consequence of these negotiations.
And that is why, in relation to Queensland, where metal fasteners were already banned by me, where I then suspended the program because we identified, by way of the audit that I put in place, that in fact metal fasteners were still being used and would pose some risk to people in roofs.
STANLEY: Yet the program, when did the program start?
GARRETT: Formally underway, we got going in July.
STANLEY: Okay, so you got going in July, the program started then. And look, a lot of people are very happy with their insulation and kept their places cooler, and that would apply to the vast majority. But you say it started in July. On the 1st of November you implemented, for instance, the ban on the metal fasteners.
Is it the impression that in the haste to get this thing happening because of the economic stimulus, you've been trying to sort of patch it up as you go along? As problems have emerged, you've tried to patch it up in relation to foil, in relation to the metal fasteners, and it should have been thought through earlier?
GARRETT: Well John, I say to you, look, the first phase of the program, February, formal launch July, the main phase of the program. But this has been the biggest launch out of energy efficiency that we've seen in the country. We've insulated now over a million homes. And nobody, least of all me, expected that every stage of this exercise would be a smooth, non-bumpy ride. What I've always done all the way through is taken the advice from the department, consulted with the industry...
STANLEY: But have they let you down, your department?
GARRETT: Well, no, made sure that we set in place the right training protocols and the right safety requirements, above the Australian standards, above the building codes, to make sure that where this program is being delivered right around Australia, not only people get the benefit from it but it's also done in a safe way. Now, the claims that the Opposition made in the Parliament yesterday, I mean they asked me three questions, I answered them, and then they went off onto other things.
The fact of the matter is that they opposed this program from the outset. And you'll know from your listeners and the feedback that you've had, that we have already got a significant compliance regime in place with respect to the dodgy installers. We've got a name and shame register. And we've got the capacity to strike people off that, to take additional action if we need.
We've got hotlines set up. We've got a compliance program that's out there. Yes, it's a big program. Yes, it's a challenge to bring that program through in a way which satisfies the very high standards we've set ourselves, but I believe that that's being done and I believe I've done it in this instance and that no one is more concerned about the issue of safety than I am.
And I absolutely grieve at the thought that someone would go into a ceiling, not properly supervised, in breach of the guidelines and the standards that we've put in place. And I'm gobsmacked that having banned metal fasteners, that they can't be used to create this risk, we still have incidences of installers using them when they've put insulation into people's rooves. So I've taken the next step...
ALOISI: But can I just ask you about those metal fasteners? You said you weren't warned about foil in that letter from the National Electrical and Communications Authority last March, yet I gather the organisation warned you about installing insulation near electrical cables and equipment.
Doesn't it just follow on that the metal fasteners and foil is going to make it even more dangerous because they conduct electricity? Are you just playing with words a little bit here Minister?
GARRETT: No, look I'm not Sandy, and we responded to that correspondence from NECA and I've taken it...
ALOISI: When? Because they say it took seven weeks before they even heard from you.
GARRETT: Well, when I was aware of those issues that were raised, I know that we do have in place the necessary commitment and delivery of the training modules to address the issues that they raised. It's related to the Australian standards, it was identified in the answer that was given to them.
The same thing was said in the house, but the bigger point is this: a range of issues have been raised in terms of consultation with the industry during this program, and I've always listened very carefully to what the industry has put to me, and I've always taken the advice of the department as to what the appropriate next steps are.
And if I believed that I need to go a step further, as I have in these last two days, in relation to foil insulation, in relation to Queensland, I've taken that step because I take safety absolutely seriously under this program.
Remember, this is a program that now delivers a training framework, nationally accredited module, we never had before. It also delivers requirements under the guidelines that are in excess of the Australian standards and the Building Codes Board requirements.
STANLEY: Yeah. So 37,000 homes are now going to be checked and audited at a cost of, what, $50 million?
GARRETT: No John, I don't believe the cost will be that high. I'm not going to put a figure on it at this point in time. That's one that's flying around in the media at the moment, but I don't believe the costs will be that high, but they will be audited and checked.
ALOISI: Okay Minister. I don't know whether we got much more out of you this morning, but thank you for your time.
GARRETT: Thanks Sandy, thanks John.
ALOISI: That's the Environment Minister, Peter Garrett, and I have to say I did say to him he sounded to me like he was reading from a press release, and that was the tenor of the interview I think the whole way through.
STANLEY: Yeah, look, I'm just looking at one aspect of this. They did say, for instance, they did an initial audit of 700 homes in Queensland. They found installers had caused electrical safety problems in 21 homes. They said that there were pre-existing electrical faults found at 142 homes.
So, there is that side of it. A lot of people would have dodgy wiring in their houses anyway. So once these guys go in there to try and install this stuff, that creates a problem there as well. So, what do you make of that?