Monday, 22 February 2010
Home Insulation Program; Green Loans Program
I wish to address my remarks to one of the most costly and incompetently handled programs it has been my misfortune to witnesses since becoming a member of parliament. I refer of course to the ill fated, maladministered, poorly thought out ‘splash of green cash’ policy of providing funding for roof insulation and the associated Green Loans Program. Talk about a reverse Midas! The Prime Minister and the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts have turned an idea into a fiasco of astronomical proportions, including the appalling tragedy of four deaths and nearly 100 house fires. And the biggest tragedy of all is that it need not have happened. The Rudd Labor government was warned time and time again about the pitfalls and dangers of the scheme. Probably the most incredible aspect of the warnings was how accurate they were.
The Australian newspaper outlined what was contained in the Minter Ellison report delivered to the government 10 months ago. The risk assessment report warned of house fires and property damage by dodgy installers, substandard batts and a department ill-equipped to roll out such a massive program. It also warned that lax controls could lead to fraud and criminal behaviour, inflated charges and ineligible people accessing the program. This assessment was incredibly accurate, and anyone reading it would have seen that there would be real problems if the program were not properly and professionally implemented.
My office was contacted a couple of weeks ago by the owner of a medium-sized business in my electorate which was installing solar panels. Instead of the promised four-week payment time, some of his accounts have been outstanding for 10 to 12 weeks. He is owed about $3 million and he is struggling to remain in business. He says that since before Christmas his assessors have been unable to efficiently book assessments onto the Green Loans calendar. The manager tried ringing the Green Loans office, only to be cut off after sitting on hold for an hour. Due to the hold-up he was unable to assess the validity of the assessments and pay his assessors, who are now unable to work as they are not getting paid. As 90 per cent of all assessments are not in the Green Loans calendar, he is unable to invoice the government, creating serious financial problems for the company. Here is a businessman providing a valuable service and employing 15 staff who is being let down at every turn by the incompetent, arrogant and uncaring Rudd Labor government.
We also spoke about a constituent, Ray Walter, and his wife who have a disabled son. They thought it would be a good idea to apply for a green loan to get solar panels on the roof. Their house was duly assessed last October but they have heard nothing since. They had to cancel the installation contract once because the assessment report had not been received, and it looked as if they were going to have to do it again. But fortunately my office, with assistance from a ministerial staff member, was able to get the ball rolling, and a report arrived in my office by email a day or two before the installation was due to take place.
So who is responsible for this massive meltdown and what should be done? Belatedly, the minister has taken action, but even that has had detrimental consequences for the industry that the minister and the Prime Minister were gleefully using to promote their own green credentials. The only reason this action was taken is that the government is under pressure and being made to look bad. Never mind the devastation for working families who have lost homes or loved ones. Never mind the financial ruin companies face because of this scandal. The only trigger for something being done is that the government is looking bad. So, in all this sorry mess, who is ultimately to be held responsible?
There are already reports that various department heads will come under intense scrutiny and must shoulder some of the blame. I believe that should only be the case if they made no attempt to warn the government that there were problems with the scheme. However, if these officers did convey concerns, or perhaps did not because they were worried about repercussions, then they should not be too severely dealt with. The scrutiny needs to go much higher. So is the minister ultimately responsible or was he just basically doing what he was told? The Sydney Morning Herald was talking about ‘Rudd’s insulation plan’ in February last year. Interestingly, even in a pretty supportive article, we see the caveat by a businessman in the industry that a massive expansion would lead to a flood of inexperienced operators who would rip consumers off by providing shoddy services.
So the question is: who should resign, given the terrible consequences of this government’s actions or, should I say, inaction? I found the answer in the Hansard of 7 December 2006. A Labor member of parliament was criticising the then Prime Minister over refusing to accept responsibility for his government’s actions. Here are some of the things that this member had to say:
Our alternative vision is for an Australia in which we have a strong economy based on market principles but also a fair go for all Australian families …
He explained that this will happen because the Labor Party has:
… a different vision … which will make their lives more liveable on the ground.
The similarity between then and now is brought into sharp relief as this member continued:
But this debate is also about a new style of leadership … it is the vehicle through which long-term change can in fact be thwarted in substitution for short-term political expediency … one increasingly characterised by short-term political survival. That, at the end of the day, is what this Prime Minister has become a past master of.
This Prime Minister is a clever politician. His talents, skills and abilities are so focused on the arts and crafts of immediate political survival that he has lost sight of the nation’s long-term needs, the nation’s long-term prosperity, the nation’s long-term sustainable security and the long-term fairness which is available to all Australian families … 95 per cent of this Prime Minister’s energy and time is spent on the art and craft of; ‘How do I get through to nine o’clock tomorrow morning?’ … But I have a message for him: the Australian people are starting to see through this. They are becoming very tired indeed of the politics of the short term—the politics of short-term expediency and opportunism.
That brings us to the matter of public importance before us today: the style of leadership that either accepts responsibility or instead always blames somebody else. You either accept responsibility or you take that course of action in which you play the blame game.
These words make it perfectly clear what the member was saying, that he supported a Prime Minister taking responsibility: ‘The buck stops with me,’ et cetera. He expressed quite unambiguous repugnance for leaders who seek to blame others for what is essentially their own actions. To quote him again:
The hallmark of this Prime Minister’s occupancy of the most important political office in the country is always that it is someone else’s fault, never his.
This member then asked the then Prime Minister:
Prime Minister, why do you always take the credit for the good news in this country and why do you never take any responsibility for the bad news in this country?
He went on to say:
But when it comes to things that go radically wrong … and things that go radically wrong over which this government has absolute control … what is his answer to them? ‘Don’t look at me; I’m just the Prime Minister.’ That is his answer: ‘Don’t look at me; I’m just the guy in charge of the country. Don’t look at me. I have tens of thousands of public servants working for me. How could I ultimately be responsible for anything that goes wrong in this country?’
This member concluded:
… the Australian people are starting to see through this. They … want a new style of leadership which says, ‘I’ve got the guts to say, ‘The buck stops with me.”‘
You may, or may not, be surprised to learn that the Labor member espousing these fine words and high ideals was none other than our current Prime Minister. The really big question now is: who in this Rudd Labor government does indeed have the guts to say, ‘The buck stops with me’?