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Interview with Ticky Fullerton, ABC TV Lateline
19 February 2010
FULLERTON: Peter Garrett, up to 16 per cent of these homes not up to standards, numerous warnings. On Monday, six of your department officials will go before a Senate inquiry, how would you rate the performance of your department?
GARRETT: I think that what has happened from the start of this program is that the department has applied itself to the risk management processes that are necessary to roll out a program of this kind and that each time there has been any instances of issues that have been raised where action is required, they have brought advice through to me. On that basis, I have considered the advice and then I have acted. And when we started this program we had a purpose of making sure that there was appropriate guidelines in place to guide the delivery of the program and through the life of the program, when we have been aware of issues that have arisen in terms of program delivery, advice has come back to me, I have considered it and then I have added additional measures.
FULLERTON: Because if the department is found to be at fault, you as Minister carry the can, don’t you?
GARRETT: Well of course I accept the principles of ministerial responsibility Ticky, and I have always said that my responsibility is to assess the advice that comes to me, to listen carefully to experts, stakeholders, to meet with them regularly which both the department and myself have done throughout the life of this program, and consider what best mechanisms we can put in place to deliver the program safely.
FULLERTON: You say you relied on all this advice, do you think, are you happy with your department?
GARRETT: Of course I am happy with them. What I would say is that when we came into the space of delivering a home insulation program of this scale we were doing it with existing state regulations, occupation health and safety requirements, already there.
What we have done since is actually develop nationally accredited training guidelines, national safety guidelines in respect of installation of insulation and we have added on top of the existing Australian standards and the Building Codes, if you like, a buttressed set of guidelines and processes to deliver this product safely.
Now, over the life of the program one of the issues that has been vexing is the compliance requirements that we have sought from installers to follow the guidelines. And I think the fact for me that is clear is that there hasn’t been an effective observation by people who have been in this program of the measures and guidelines that we have had in place.
FULLERTON: Was there ever a time against the background of these four deaths and the political pressure that you have been under that you have considered resigning?
GARRETT: No. And I think that it is really important for me to say that I take any fatality as a tragic event for the family in question and if it is a program that is associated with the Government, or with your portfolio, of course that is a thing of real and immense importance. But from the time of the first fatality I acted immediately both to seek additional advice, to convene stakeholder meetings and to determine what measures we needed to put in place to ensure that if there was additional risks that have been identified we met it.
I banned metal fasteners as a consequence of that and I took additional advice about safety issues around foil insulation and as we now know, we moved quickly then both to suspend the program and now we have got an inspection program on foil insulation that is being undertaken throughout Australia, mainly in Queensland.
FULLERTON: The criticisms on your new program are coming thick and fast, that this is another rushed decision and that now we have got a situation where the existing program is effectively in limbo, you have got no one who is going to go and insulate their homes in the meantime. You have got small businesses who have got no certainty. And you have got people being laid off.
GARRETT: Well this is a safety first decision for me. We have always wanted to make sure that risk management was one of the primary goals of delivery in terms of what we required from people in the program. And I have to say that when we mandated additional training requirements for every single person installing insulation I was very disappointed at the fact that we had significant numbers of installers who either couldn’t meet those mandated requirements or hadn’t met them.
So there is an onus in programs of this kind on people who are doing the work, to conform to the requirements that government’s place on them.
FULLERTON: But you have now got small business with a high level of uncertainty. I think this morning a foil insulation small businessman asked the Prime Minister what he was going to do with all his inventory, now. Are you going to be able to compensate those sorts of people?
GARRETT: Well look, we have said that we will have discussions with industry and we will do that as a matter of course and that would be expected and I welcome the fact that we will hear those views. We have also talked about measures that might be appropriate for the transition period to the new program.
I make this point to you – our commitment today for a Renewable Energy Bonus means that because the householder will take the decision to pay to install insulation, they may choose to negotiate with an installer in order to have that happen…
FULLERTON: Wouldn’t it have been a much safer thing to have the householder in charge at the beginning of the program?
GARRETT: Well I will come back to that, but they will also have the opportunity to, in a sense, go at a later date and provide the rebate to the company,
My own view about this is that reputable companies who have been delivering insulation under this program will have a guaranteed future under the program that we are bringing forward. It is all those shonks, it is all those ones who frankly didn’t exercise the appropriate duty of care, both to the householders and to the people under their charge, that stand to not be able to be involved in any program that we deliver from now on.
FULLERTON: But as I say wouldn’t it have been more sensible to actually have the householder in that decision making situation at the beginning?
GARRETT: Well again, with guidelines in place, very clear guidelines, with a requirement for the householders to sign off on the order form and satisfy themselves that they have a proper installer in the house and that the job is done properly and also specific requirements that I added for things like a mandatory risk inspection, a set of standards that existed in the guidelines to produce some direction for people as to how the job must be done and must be done properly, all those things were in place.
FULLERTON: Minister, just one on the Prime Minister’s announcement about whaling. Have the public got a right to be a bit sceptical about this? Isn’t this really about tallying up the number of promises the Government has not delivered on and trying to meet some of these commitments before the next election?
GARRETT: Well look scepticism is a desirable trait Ticky, particularly in your profession, but the fact is that since the IWC meeting of last, in Madeira, where I actually brought through a conservation agenda that talks about a different role for the IWC, there has been a series of intense negotiations and a special discussion group and working group, that has been set up to consider the proposals that we brought forward. That process has been underway; it is genuine, intense, diplomatic engagement.
But we have made it clear that if we don’t see some significant concession on the part of the whaling nations for the agenda that we have brought forward and specifically in relation to so-called ‘scientific’ whaling, then the legal option will be delivered.
FULLERTON: Peter Garrett, thanks for talking with us.