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

Home insulation program; household Renewable Energy Bonus scheme

E&OE Transcript
Interview with Murray Wilton & Murray Olds, 2UE Drive program
19 February 2010

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WILTON: This afternoon, news - I suppose a lot of people have been expecting the Federal Government - the insulation Minister - the Environment Minister, Peter Garrett, has canned the Government's insulation scheme, along with the solar hot water rebate scheme. Both been closed as of close of business today, to be replaced by a brand new household Renewable Energy Bonus scheme, whatever that might be.

Also, Peter Garrett promising to weed out the shonks, the shonks who've been plaguing this whole ambitious rollout from day one.

OLDS: And that's...

WILTON: The smarty-pantses who jumped in.

OLDS:   That is the - yeah, they're the main reasons why it's come undone.

WILTON: That's dead right.

We're joined on the line by Mr Garrett.

Good afternoon to you, Minister.

GARRETT: G'day Murray. Hi Murray.

OLDS: Hi.

WILTON: Thanks for joining us.

You've canned it from close of business today. In hindsight, shouldn't the closure have come some months ago?

GARRETT: Look, I don't believe so, Murray. And it's easy to look back in hindsight and say what should have or shouldn't have happened.

All the time that this program's been unrolling, I've sought to make sure that we deliver the insulation, that we've got the guidelines in place. I've kept on lifting both the safety standards, as people know, but also the requirements under the scheme for any shonky installers.

But at the end of the day, it's been a very big scheme and whilst there's been a large number of people who've done the right thing, there have been a small number of people who've done the wrong thing. And they do, at this point in time, now that we have some initial information coming forward to us on risk assessment, pose risks under the scheme that I don't think are acceptable.

So I'm doing what I think is the right thing. I've done it on advice, as I've done everything else under this scheme. But it is the case that under the new Renewable Energy Bonus that we've put in place, firstly, it will be householders that actually take the direct action and they'll be able to get an equivalent thousand dollar rebate from Medicare and there will be even stricter requirements and guidelines, but particularly, we'll work closely with the states to make sure that every single component of delivery is done in a way which provides people with value.

WILTON: Minister, look, I don't think you'll get any argument from people. I think they will, you know, agree with you on the point of view that yes, great intentions, best intentions that this was going to be rolled out. And a lot of people have had it done and it's been a great success.

But it's the rogue operators that have really brought all this undone, and I think that's probably what people want to know, is how you're going to stop these rogue operators from sticking their hands up again?

GARRETT: Well, you know, it's an interesting question for any politician, whether it's at state level or Commonwealth, you know, how do you legislate against rogue human behaviour?

And I think the answer is that we are going to commission an independent outside expert to have a close look at all of the relevant compliance measures that ought to be considered when we actually have the new bonus in place.

Specifically though, I've identified that we will be requiring an upfront cash bond for installers. And effectively, this means that people who are established businesses will put up a $10,000 bond or equivalent. We will then hold that bond against the quality of the work that they do. If there are issues that come down the track in terms of having to make good work or whatever, then there's the opportunity for the Commonwealth to have access to that to do it. That will certainly, I think, produce even additional rigour in the marketplace.

But you know what, I mean, when I first delivered the national training scheme and the guidelines, I was advised strongly that we have something in place that had never been done before. And for my purposes, that advice was clear.

I guess, at the end of the day, that I expected that people wouldn't try and abuse the scheme to the level that they did. And recognising that there have been some of those instances, we've taken this extra step.

OLDS: And it's my understanding from listening to you, Peter Garrett, that you've kind of flipped the onus over. It's not up now to Johnny-come-lately to say, well, I've installed the house of Mrs Garrett or Mrs Olds, and, you know, it's now up to you to give me the cheque.

It's the homeowner himself or herself who's satisfied with the worker will then claim through Medicare.

GARRETT: That's right. And I think that does two things. It gets around the sort of cold calling that we've seen some unscrupulous operators get stuck into in places, and particularly with, say for example, older folk who may not know exactly what the guidelines say.

OLDS: Very vulnerable people.

GARRETT: Well, that's right. And, you know, absolutely entitled to proper consumer protection. But it also means that it's the householder who's taking an interest in actually having to come up with the money in the first place and then going to get their rebate.

I'm pretty confident that people will pay very close attention to the quality of work because of that.

WILTON: Okay. What are you going to do about the situation where we had people ring us last week and they said that, you know, installers were coming around and knocking on the door and saying, listen, can we put some Pink Batts up in your roof? And they've said, look, I've already got it. They said, oh listen, if you just sign this, I'll go halves with you on the rebate.

Now, how are you going to stop that from happening, and how are you going to stop...

OLDS: Is there any retrospectivity too, in terms of cracking down on those so-and-sos?

WILTON: Absolutely. And how are you going to stop, you know, the elderly being bullied by rogue installers saying that they are licensed and they can get the money back from Medicare when they may not be able to get it back?

GARRETT: Well, a couple of things.

Firstly, we'll have a strengthened audit compliance regime, and we'll work with the state and territory authorities in relation to that. And it will be the responsibility of installers. They'll have to show evidence, not only of meeting the training requirements, they'll have to show quality assurance capacities as well as the occupational health and safety that we have here already.

And it will be a requirement that the people who are on the register in relation to the delivery of insulation can meet all of those requirements, and frankly, any others that this independent expert proposes to us.

I mean, I am - I've always been the person who said if I get the evidence and I need to add extra measures, I'll add them.

I added, and added and added and added, and we still had these people behaving in this way, so we've done the right thing but we will come back to this space which - with a delivery which will enable people to have confidence.

They will have to make a judgement about that, and I do expect people to exercise a little bit of consumer caution if someone's trying it on.

OLDS: Two quick ones. How will this affect people who are having the work done, for example, this afternoon and perhaps have contracted for next week, and will the Government now be considering compensation in terms of the four young fellows who have died?

GARRETT: Look, in relation to the last matter with those tragic deaths, Murray, those matters are still, as I understand it, under a range of investigations by state authorities. So I don't propose to add anything to it other than to recognise how serious those issues were.

In relation to the first question, it - the responsibility here for making sure that you ultimately do work still lies with any installer. It's like a builder who comes on to your site, it's like an electrician, it's like a plumber. There's an exchange that happens there between someone who wants the work done and someone who's doing the work.

We want to put in place something which means that people will still be able to get $1000 for ceiling insulation which will reduce their energy cost and do the good things that insulation can do in the program, but there will be very explicit and specific requirements in relation to that delivery. And the householder, by actually handing over and then going and getting back the rebate, will be an important part of that equation.

WILTON: Are you going to go back and check all the previous installations?

GARRETT: We will check any installations that require checking either that come up through the random audit inspection that we've got, or targeted inspections. In other words, where we target a particular installer and we find that there's questions around the quality of the work or otherwise that triggers a red light in effect, which means you go further down the road on those particular insulations.

Any concerns that people have in relation to their installations, 1800 808 571.

And remember, even though the most recent advice to me identified some safety risk in relation to things like fire, the question that's really critical here - and when I speak over the radio through you guys to others is to acknowledge this, and that is that can be anything from something just being a little bit close to a downlight to someone who's put it in a place which produces a greater risk.

The key here is that the safety requirements are as high as they need to be. If anyone has any concerns about the work that's already been done, they should contact the department. That will trigger an inspection and an investigation and any matters that arise out of it.

OLDS: One quick one. Tony Abbott's saying, okay, this is all well and good but the job will not be gone until he's got your head on a stick. You've got to go. What do you say to that?

GARRETT: Well, Murray, you know - I mean, Mr Abbott's conducted himself in a certain way during this debate. They've always been opposed to the fiscal stimulus itself.

This started with the response by the Government to recession that was banging in on countries all around the world, and the fiscal stimulus package kept Australia out of recession.

I said if there were problems that arose out of it or issues that needed to be fixed, I'd hang around to fix them. I intend to hang around to do my job in the future.

WILTON: You've rejected what Mr Abbott's had to say?

GARRETT: Well, that's part of the political argy-bargy. Of course I do. I'm absolutely convicted to continue to do the job in a deliberate, careful and appropriate way, and that's what I'm aiming to do.

WILTON: Thanks so much for your time, Peter Garrett. Appreciate it.

GARRETT: Thanks, guys.

WILTON: Peter Garrett, Federal Environment Minister.

[ENDS]

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