Responsibility was mine, says Garrett

Peter Garrett arrives for his grilling in Brisbane at the royal commission into deaths from the home insulation program. Photo: Glenn HuntFormer environment minister Peter Garrett has taken responsibility for the Labor government’s failed insulation scheme, but revealed prime minister Kevin Rudd refused to approve a change to the installation system just weeks before the first installer died.

Mr Garrett told of Mr Rudd’s involvement via a statement given to the Royal Commission into Home Insulation Program (HIP), which is sitting in Brisbane.

On Tuesday Mr Garrett, the former front man for the band Midnight Oil, became the highest profile minister to appear before the inquiry, which is due to hear evidence from Mr Rudd on Wednesday.

In his statement, Mr Garrett said: ”I was responsible for the rollout for the HIP and bore ultimate responsibility for its implementation.”

He also revealed that he had tried to introduce a requirement for two quotes for insulation jobs because he ”felt there was a need for a rigorous process that ensured value for money”.

But he said his requirement for two quotes was removed from the initial roll-out in phase two after advice from the department.

Then on August 27, 2009, he said he sought the prime minister’s approval to make the change, but Mr Rudd did not approve the request.

Four installers died during the program – the first, Matthew Fuller, was electrocuted on October 14, 2009, less than four months after the main program started. The following month 16-year-old Rueben Barnes was electrocuted.

Mr Garrett confirmed he received a ministerial briefing three weeks before Mr Fuller’s death, warning that ”concern about new entrants to the market were not meeting skills competencies and overcharging”.

He also blamed public servants and ministerial advisers for not providing information to him about safety issues.

Giving evidence as to why he had not seen a key risk assessment raising installer safety concerns, Mr Garrett said it would be a matter for his department and advisers to ”highlight” for him if they determined it necessary.

”In the ordinary course of the role of a minister I would have to seek to see it if I’m advised about it … but in the normal practice or necessity I wouldn’t ask to see it,” he said.

He reiterated this in his statement to the inquiry, saying at no time were the risks of death or serious injury communicated to him via briefings from the department.

Mr Garrett confirmed that as a consequence of Mr Fuller’s death he became distrustful of the department’s advice, including its recommendation not to ban foil insulation.

Mr Garrett said, in hindsight, he would have recommended the scrapping of the program after the death of the scheme’s first victim in October, 2009.

He said he suggested mandatory training for all installers in the wake of Mr Fuller’s death.

However, a briefing from his department, titled ”Mandatory Training for all Installers”, advised Mr Garrett against the move.

The department advised Mr Garrett that a workforce of 19,000 installers could not be trained in such a short period of time.

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