Repost: Pink Batts – facts and fiction. John Menadue

The following is a repost from July 11, 2013. I wonder if it is necessary for the Abbott Government to rake over the past rather than concentrate on the future!

The fiction is continuing in the uncritical media that only the Commonwealth Government should bear responsibility for the problems of the Home Insulation Scheme. We should consider the facts…

  • 1.1 million Installations were completed under the scheme. There was clearly a rush by the Commonwealth Government to roll out the scheme as part of a successful stimulus plan to provide work as the global financial crisis bore down on us.  Because of the stimulus plan Australia avoided most of the disaster that befell many other countries during the GFC. That should be recognized. But mistakes were made
  • In a column in Crikey of 26 April 2011, there were research findings by blogger Possum Comitatus, which were based on a CSIRO analysis of insulation fires.  (It was not about deaths.) Possum Comitatus concluded that ‘the HIS was three times safer than the industry it replaced in terms of the fires experienced within twelve months of getting installed’. He then looked at the rate of fires over the longer term and came to the same conclusion that the industry was safer following the HIS than it was before. He concluded ‘ultimately the HIS … was much safer in terms of the fire rate than what preceded it’.

Certainly the number of fires was up, but that was perhaps not surprising given the major increase in installations. But the rate of fires was down.

Ian McAuley in  New Matilda of 8 July 2003 has pointed out

  • Regulation of the home installation industry is in the hands of State Governments, not the Commonwealth. The states were and still are responsible for safety. In the recent coroner’s finding on a death in Queensland, he recommended that three managers from two insulation companies be referred to the Queensland Attorney General for breaches of the State Electrical Safety Act.
  • The Commonwealth Auditor General found that 29% of installations had deficiencies ranging from minor to series safety concerns. He found that the program was open to fraud, finding 4,000 cases of potential fraud and 67 cases of payments being made to contractors without any work having been done. This is clearly an industry which has attracted more fly-by-night operators than some others. The small industry sector has some downsides.

Clearly the scheme was poorly administered by the Commonwealth and Kevin Rudd has apologised. But the safety/regulation issue is the responsibility of state governments. Further, the rate of fires was down following the introduction of the program.

Under the rubric of small government the Commonwealth Department of Environment found itself unable to properly manage the programme. The necessary government skills and experience were just not there. Consultants Minter Ellison therefore advised the Commonwealth Government that the programme be outsourced which in effect limited the Commonwealth’s role to funding and not supervision.

There is plenty of blame to go around, but it seems that some of the media have chosen only to focus on the Commonwealth Government and Kevin Rudd. The News Limited publications have been particularly sloppy and partisan on the issue. Once again, their political hectoring ran ahead of their  examination of the facts.

On safety issues beyond the home installation industry, we find that workplace deaths across all industries has fallen by one third since the election of the first Rudd Government. These figures are from Safe Work Australia. Most deaths have occurred in agriculture followed by construction. This downward trend in workplace deaths has been occurring for many years. How much has been due to an emphasis on safety by Ministers Shorten and Albanese is hard to access. But the trend is certainly in the right direction.

But the myths and the fictions of the pink batts continue.

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John Laurence 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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