John Menadue The Royal Commission into the Home Insulation Program – ’a dog’s breakfast.’

In an article in Eureka Street on 8 September, Fr Frank Brennan described the Royal Commission report into the HIP as a ‘dog’s breakfast’. He described the reasoning behind Mr Hanger’s conclusion on commonwealth responsibility as ‘bizarre’. He added that the report was ‘inadequate and flawed’.

See Frank Brennan’s comments at the end of this post.

The pink batts issue has been dominated by party politicking, a relentless campaign by News Ltd and lazy journalism. The problems with the program were seized on at every opportunity to discredit the Rudd Government.

I have long contended that the regulation of the home insulation industry is the responsibility, without any doubt, of state governments. (See my Blog of January 3, 2014 ‘Pink Batts – fact and fiction’). The states were and still are responsible for safety, however much the Royal Commissioner tried to shift the responsibility. He in effect said that the commonwealth should not have relied on the states to implement their own occupation and health safety laws, their own employment training programs, or their own building regulations. He said ‘To rely on the state and territory regimes to police their own respective workplace health and safety laws seems to me to have been misguided. ….’

What an extraordinary thing to say. Any student of Economics I, Law 1 or Politics 1 would know that the states have clear responsibility in this area and that they jealously guard their territory. To say nothing of the responsibilities of employers!

In all this misguided heaping of responsibility onto the commonwealth government, including the four deaths, we should also remind ourselves of issues that Michael Keating, Ian McAuley and I have raised in this blog.

  • There were 1.1 million installations completed under this program.
  • A CSIRO analysis found that the rate of fires (not deaths) under HIP was lower than previously.
  • 7% of installations had to be rectified which doesn’t seem a particularly high rate for the building industry.
  • One fatality was caused by a pre-existing fault; another electrocuted installer was employed by an electrician and the third death occurred when a contractor elected to work in oppressive heat.
  • It is suggested that the deaths occurred because the HIP was rushed. There certainly was a compelling reason for speedy implementation, but it is very problematical whether the four deaths would have been avoided if the commonwealth had taken more time.

This has been a high politicised issue from the beginning. The Royal Commission report – the ‘dog’s breakfast’ – has not helped.It is reported to have cost $25m. It is one of the few promises that Prime Minister Abbott has actually kept!

For the future a scheme like this might be better implemented if the program funds were paid directly to the homeowner as a reimbursement/subsidy after the insulation work was completed. This would have been much more likely to have avoided the commonwealth ever accepting responsibility for situations that it could never have prevented. But reimbursing the home owner would have been no more likely to have prevented those four deaths, assuming the relevant homeowners used the same contractors.

 

Pink Batts – Frank Brennan – extracts from Eureka Street, 8 September 2014.

This last week, we have seen the disastrous consequences with another royal commission which failed to take account of the role of state governments. The Royal Commission into the Home Insulation Program produced a report which is a dog’s breakfast. The mainstream media has been oblivious to the report’s glaring shortcomings, focusing more on the party politics of the blame game.

That royal commission concluded that the Commonwealth when administering the program should not have relied on the states to implement their own occupational health and safety laws, their own employment training requirements or their own building regulations.

The Commissioner, Mr Ian Hanger QC, reported, ‘To rely on the State and Territory regimes to police their respective workplace health and safety laws seems to me to have been misguided, as those regimes are largely reactive. That is, when an incident happens the workplace health and safety regulators or electrical safety regulators investigate, report and, if appropriate, take enforcement action. What was, in my view, required of the Australian Government with the HIP (Home Insulation Program) was the provision of some preventative measures to attempt to mitigate some of the obvious workplace health and safety risks endemic to the HIP.’

And yet, the Commission went on to suggest that the Commonwealth should have considered having the states, rather than the Commonwealth, implement the whole program.

The regrettable deaths of the four young men working on the Home Insulation Program were the result of problems in administration at the Commonwealth and State levels and in delayed, poor communication between Commonwealth and State officials, especially in Queensland where three of the four men worked and died.

In reaching his bizarre conclusions, the royal commissioner received little help from government. He observed: ‘With very few exceptions, the public servant witnesses chose not to make any submissions. Quite extraordinarily, in my view, the Commonwealth chose not to make submissions when given the opportunity to do so. It made some desultory submissions in reply to the submissions of the pre-existing insulation business owners and the State of Queensland.’ A royal commission set up to investigate only the Commonwealth Government, especially when receiving inadequate co-operation from the Commonwealth Government, was bound to provide an inadequate and flawed report.

 

 

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John Menadue is the publisher of Pearls & Irritations. He has had a distinguished career both in the private sector and in the Public Service.

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