Thursday, 11 February 2010
Suspension of Standing and Sessional Orders
The government does not agree with this motion. I want to begin by reprising the statement that I already made to the House, outlining in some detail the approach that I have taken in terms of the discharge of this program, ensuring there were appropriate levels of training in place and also that safety at all times was a priority.
I am going to begin, though, by addressing the remarks from the member for Flinders. I come to the dispatch box with correspondence that has come to my attention in relation to the Audit Office—and I have already addressed this in the parliament today. I think it is understood by most of us here that the executive does not direct the Auditor-General in this parliament and neither should it. On that basis, though, the Auditor-General did write to me confirming that he had received a letter from the shadow minister for climate change, asking that he give consideration to an inquiry into the package, particularly the Homeowner Insulation Program. The Auditor-General goes on to say:
Prior to receiving Mr Hunt’s letter, we had already planned an audit of this package to commence towards the end of this financial year. In the light of this correspondence, we consulted with your department on developments of the new program. In this context, we were informed of the new guidelines and the compliance and audit strategy being implemented for the program. If implemented effectively these resources may address some of the concerns raised by the shadow minister. Given that the package is at an early phase of implementation, I have decided not to advance our existing plan of commencing the audit towards the end of this financial year.
When this program was first announced by the government, it was announced with a specific purpose and it was announced in the framework of existing state regulations about occupational health and safety and work safety that would be brought into effect in the event that there was any delivery of ceiling insulation into the homes of Australia. It is important that we recognise that fact from the outset. My absolute desire and very firm commitment has been to ensure that the existing standards that Australia had in place, as a modern democratic state, for activities of this kind were properly reflected in the guidelines that we established to develop the program and to ensure that if there were any additional measures that needed to be addressed and implemented then we would, with careful consultation and with due consideration, taking on board expert advice and consulting with the industry as a whole, make those necessary additional steps. That is what we have done.
This motion fails on a number of bases but at its very heart does not recognise what the government’s program has actually done. I have made a detailed statement to the House. It is the case that the opposition always took an alternative view to this program. They were not going to support the fiscal stimulus package and they have been particularly patronising about the insulation industry and the installation of the pink batts—you often hear it shouted across the chamber. But the fact remains that the initial rollout of this program was consistent with the Australian standards as necessary, and that upon the full rollout of this program, following on from consultations with all of the relevant bodies that the government ought to have negotiated and consulted with at that time, a nationally accredited training module was put in place—not only that but also a register for installers.
The shadow minister referred to one particular matter, claiming that this shows the neglect that I as minister showed in discharging my duties in relation to warnings that we have had about electrical safety. He referred specifically to EE-Oz. I want to take this opportunity to advise the House of advice that I have received in respect of that matter—that is, that EE-Oz requested minimal changes to the pocketbook that installers use and that the CEO of EE-Oz stated that the relevant information relating to electrical safety was covered. It is important to understand this point, because what I have had to do over the last week is amplify the level of safety requirements under an existing program which already has safety requirements above the Australian standard and greater than is required by the building codes of Australia. That is the situation that we found ourselves in as a consequence of the tragic death on 14 October.
As I pointed out in my statement to the parliament earlier today, I did not accept the advice of my department and I did go on to ban the use of metal fasteners, considering those issues that were in play. At the same time as doing that, I demanded that we audit the ceilings of homes in Queensland where this foil had been installed. I wanted to know what the results of that audit would be. When I got those interim results in the very first instance—they dribbled through to us—and five instances out of the early 400 interim results showed prospectivity for live insulation, I suspended the program. That was the right thing to do. When the advice came to me and I saw that material, I reacted straightaway to that, as I have done to a range of issues that have come through to me in the life of this program.
Additionally, Mr Speaker, I need to point out through you to the opposition that claims have been made to me that, by diligently observing the appropriate consultation processes and increasing the regulatory burden on a previously unregulated insulation market, I would in fact stop the effective discharge of insulation under this program. My response to that has always been the same: safety is a priority and appropriate levels of training are a priority. I stand by that. I stand by my statement that I gave in the House, and I stand by the decisions that I have made in relation to this program.
The Leader of the Opposition sought to censure the Prime Minister and raised comments about the discharge of my other responsibilities, and I just want to address the terms of that censure very briefly. I have discharged my responsibilities to the fullest capacity that I can muster and with a specific knowledge that, for 12 years, those opposite completely dropped the ball on a wide-ranging series of matters under the environment portfolio. In doing that, I have been specifically clear about what the requirements are for the environment minister: firstly, to believe in protecting the environment, to take regulatory decisions that provide certainty and set the bar high for environmental protection and to discharge a program of putting solar panels on the roofs of homes around Australia that is 11 times what you ever did and then providing a sustainable growth path for the solar industry, because everybody in this chamber is well aware—notwithstanding the shadow minister’s views about rebates for solar panels—that it is an industry that requires some certainty and continuity over the longer term.
There are many other matters in relation to the discharge of responsibilities that the environment minister has to make sure that he or she does properly. The most important one is to provide an effective discharge of the policies that the government brings forward: the largest energy-efficient program that the country has ever seen, over a million households insulated, significant economic stimulus, the provision of a national standard for training, and increasing the standards for safety so that, when we complete this program, not only will Australians have reduced greenhouse gas emissions and reduced energy costs but they will have a regulatory framework for the insulation industry that is more robust and more appropriate than was the case when we first came into government.