I would like to add a further comment to your post on 3 January on the Pink Batts.
First, I would further contest the evidence that this scheme was poorly conceived and badly implemented. On this point it should be noted that the Auditor General’s finding that 29 per cent of 13808 completed jobs had minor or serious problems was based on a departmental survey, which suggests that the government was following up. Furthermore the survey was not wholly random and as the Auditor General noted this particular finding constituted only weak evidence. Later evidence showed that of 44,300 inspections, again not randomly chosen, only 3215 led to rectifications being required – a rate of around 7 per cent, which does not seem to me to be particularly high for the building industry.
The other major concern arose out of the death of four installers. Leaving aside the fact that regulation of health and safety is a responsibility of the States and employers it should be noted that one fatality was caused by a pre-existing electrical fault; another electrocuted installer was employed by an electrician; and a third death occurred when a contractor elected to work in oppressive heat. In addition, the Commonwealth required more of contractors than most States as it required installers to agree to employees holding a nationally recognised occupational health and safety certificate demonstrating that “the holder is competent to work safely in the construction industry”. To the extent that there was a failure of health and safety it would seem to reflect a general failure of health and safety regulation in the building industry and not a failure of this particular program.
Second, the other important aspect that I would like to raise is why did the Rudd and Gillard Governments decide to throw in the towel and not defend the program? I suggest that it was their decision to stay silent and not respond to the criticisms that has now given the HIS program such a bad reputation, and has come at a considerable cost to their own reputations. I think that it was this decision to stay silent, when a substantial defence was possible, that is deserving of further exploration by those who are interested in how our political system is working these days.
Dr Michael Keating AC was formerly Secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet 1991-96.