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Interview with Jamie Dunn and Ian Calder, 4BC Breakfast Show
12 February 2010
DUNN: And this morning we started the show with a straw poll that - about Peter Garrett's handling of the foil insulation debacle and we got a 70 per cent disapproval rating for Peter. I've got Peter on the line, the Federal Environment Minister. Peter Garrett, welcome to 4BC.
GARRETT: Good morning, Jamie.
DUNN: How you going?
GARRETT: Well, I'm continuing to do what I've done everyday when I get up. I'm rolling up my sleeves and I'm getting on with he job and I'm doing the work that I need to do.
DUNN: It's getting a bit hot in that kitchen, though, don't you think?
GARRETT: Well, if you're talking about what's happened in the Parliament in terms of the politics of the Opposition and the censure motions and so on, I actually believe that yesterday in the Parliament the Opposition didn't make the claims that they were making about me and this program stick. I made a very comprehensive statement to the Parliament before question time...
DUNN: And we had a call from a lady named Julie that actually saw that and, you know, came to your defence.
GARRETT: Well, I reckon it's worth reading, because it does lay out all of the measures that I put in place and then we had seven questions and a censure. None of that stuck as well. And I understand the concern that people have about this program, especially in Queensland, but I think what's been missing in the debate is a recognition that from day one when this program was started up, it had the appropriate Australian Safety Standards in place. That we then developed a national training model for ceiling insulation which had never been there in the past, and we did it consulting with industry. I always said on the way through that if we needed to make additional measures, bring them forward in terms of safety we would do that, and we've done it. And I've also said that safety was an absolute priority as we roll out over a million homes for insulation. Now, all this talk about, you know, were you warned about this, and were you warned about that; many of those instances of issues being identified were initiated by me. I wanted to know what was going on. I asked experts to tell me. I then took advice from my department on what we should do in terms of the program. I put it in place. When we started this program there were still state regulations in terms of installing insulation in play in every state in the country including Queensland. Ceiling insulation and foil insulation is quite commonly used on building sites and put into people's roofs. What we've now got is a higher level of safety and a higher level of training than we've had before and we have it operating nationally. Now, I recognise that there've been some shonks in the system. They are on notice and they've been on notice since day one.
DUNN: But that's a point, is when this was rolled out, this program, you must have known, because there was a time limit on when you could take up this rebate offer that a lot of those shonkies would come into the business just to take up the demand. So, why is it that the compulsory training standards for those installers are only taking effect, like, now?
GARRETT: Well, no, it's been compulsory previously for installers, who are installing insulation and who are a part of the Government's program to have their training requirements in place. That's always been the case. We've gone one step further; in other words further than normal building practices by making it compulsory for even the person who they are supervising, who's doing additional work in the installation.
GARRETT: We went to the business of actually negotiating and consulting with the trades organisation, with the industry itself, with other state government bodies, health and safety bodies and others...
DUNN: Well, Peter, Malcolm Richards from the Master Electricians Australia has said this week on our show...
RICHARDS: [GRAB FROM MALCOLM RICHARDS, MEA] We gave them that advice back when only 22,000 were installed. Now we're up 37,000 homes.
DUNN: So, he's saying that he gave you advice about the dangers of the foil when 22,000 homes were...
GARRETT: Well, I'm glad you've raised Malcolm and his comments, because I heard him this morning saying that the changes and the responses that we've had, he acknowledges, and I've got the correspondence from him welcoming the changes that I made, and you know what, I made them on the basis of meeting with him, when we had that very first, unfortunate and tragic fatality. That was 14 October. I then initiated an immediate response from my department as well as the investigation that would have gone on from state safety authorities. I had a round-table to determine what additional measures we needed to make and I took advice from my department on that. That advice said to me that foil, properly installed, would not pose a significant risk, or dangers to the householder in terms of what goes on in the ceiling. I also met with Jamie. I then determined myself, within two weeks, that in fact, I would ban the metal fasteners which were clearly responsible for causing some of these problems. I did that. In other words, I took that decision as the Minister, because I wanted the safety, in terms of the installation, to be at the highest level. I then initiated, my instruction, the random audit of some 10 per cent of the roofs in Queensland that had the foil insulation. As soon as we got the initial results of that audit - it's not completed yet, but it will be, of some 2000 homes - but as soon as I got the initial results, some 5 instances of potential live, I then suspended foil from the program. Those measures have been welcomed by the industry and I think it was the appropriate step to take at the time. I just make the point that every step along the way, safety's been a priority, and every step along the way we've put the training and the compliance measures in place that we think needs to be there to do the job.
DUNN: Peter, can I just ask you that, if you were in Opposition and the Liberal Environment Minister had this on his plate, would you call for his sacking?
GARRETT: Well, I think the way in which the Opposition went about their attack yesterday was a matter for them to determine. But I think, you know, using these tragedies that have taken place as a way of attacking a Minister is...
DUNN: Oh, I don't think anyone's up for that.
GARRETT: Well, no. And for me, I absolutely stand by my record from day one in this program. I absolutely stand by the measures we've put in place. We will leave this insulation program - and I dearly, dearly hope we have no more incidences - but we will leave this insulation program with the highest level of national regulation it didn't have at all before. With high levels of safety standards and high levels of training. Now at the end of the day, any installer who enters into this arrangement with the Government is on notice that they have to fulfil the guidelines. It's been compulsory from day one for Australian Standards and for occupational health and safety - for occupational health and safety for everybody working on the site, and I say to installers, they have a duty of care as well. They have a duty of care to those people under their charge to follow those guidelines. If they follow them, then safety is at a premium. If they don't, then we get these terrible incidences that we've seen, and incidences that I have responded to.
DUNN: Well, Peter, look, first of all, thank you very much for taking the call. I know that the temptation in these, you know, media frenzies is to go to ground and I appreciate that you've come on the show this morning.
GARRETT: No, look, thanks very much, guys. And I'll be out there telling people what we've done. I believe it's a good program, and we want to make it work as well as we can, and obviously we think safety is the absolute, most important thing we can do.
DUNN: Thanks for your time this morning. Peter Garrett, Federal Environment Minister.