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The Hon Peter Garrett AM MP
Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts

Home Insulation Program

Interview with Ron Wilson, Channel 10 Morning News
12 February 2010

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NEWSREADER: First this morning, pressure is mounting on the Prime Minister to sack Environment Minister Peter Garrett over the home insulation debacle. The Opposition hammered Mr Garrett in question time, claiming if he was the director of a company he'd be charged with manslaughter over the four workers who died installing home insulation.

The attack is also coming from the construction union which says the Government insulation roll out resulted in far too much work for people who didn't have the relevant training.

Kevin Rudd is backing the minister, saying he's doing a great job.

And Environment Minister Peter Garrett joins us now live from Canberra. Minister, good morning. Mr Rudd is giving you - or voicing his support for you at the moment. But there's still rife speculation that you could well lose your ministry. Can you survive this onslaught?

GARRETT: I intend to keep on doing the job that I've been doing Ron. I think there's always a lot of lightning and banging of drums around the political arena in Canberra. But my responsibilities as Environment Minister I discharge absolutely fully. I made that really clear in the Parliament, including a very detailed statement showing how we'd actually dealt with some of the issues under this program.

The Opposition asked questions of me, and then censured me. And we answered all those questions satisfactorily as well. I'm committed to doing the job, getting on with it. It's a job I take great conviction in doing as well as I can, and that's what I'm going to keep doing.

NEWSREADER: The difficulty is that four deaths just will not go away. Could you not have done more to prevent those fatalities?

GARRETT: Well all of those fatalities are the subject of proper investigation by authorities. And I think it's not appropriate for me to be talking about them in any more detail. Obviously they're of real importance and significance. They're tragic. But the key thing here in this debate, that seems to have been lost, particularly by the Opposition who want to score points around these issues, is that every time I have sought additional information or advice to make this program work better and safer, when that advice has come to me, I've acted on it.

So a number of the instances where safety issues have been raised in the past, or issues about training have come up, I've taken the appropriate advice, and I've put the measures in place - which of course I've done in the last three or four days as well.

And more importantly than that, with over 1 million homes insulated, we now have in place for the first time - in what was an unregulated market - a nationally accredited training scheme. We have safety requirements in the guidelines that are higher than the Australian standards and what's required by the building codes.

This is also, at the same time, when every single installer is on notice that if they conduct any kind of unethical, illegal, or dodgy behaviour, they'll be struck off the register, they'll be subject to a name and shame component on the register, and that's in addition to the existing state safety regulations that are in place.

So safety is an absolute priority. We'll continue to very carefully consider whether there's additional measures we need to put in place. If they're determined to be necessary, I'll put them in place.

NEWSREADER: If we push the politics aside, the obvious politics aside on all of this - there's one mother there who lost her son, one of the four deaths. She'll lay him to rest, in fact, in New South Wales tomorrow. She holds you personally responsible.

What do you say to her?

GARRETT: Well I can understand the deep grieving that family feel - especially a mum.

And you know, my sympathies are real for that situation that they face. What I can say is that we put in place guidelines in July to make sure that there was appropriate standards for the safe installation of insulation.

So if installers were doing the job properly, properly supervising people working with them, they would have done a job which wouldn't have resulted in unnecessary risk to anybody. As soon as we had a terrible fatality - 14 October - I immediately sought advice as to what additional measures might be needed.

I've met with Master Electricians. I've consulted with the industry. And even though the advice to me at that time was that banning metal fasteners wasn't an appropriate measure - because foil insulation has gone into ceilings around Australia for many many years when buildings have taken place - I still took the next step of banning those metal fasteners. And then I've said let's see what's going on in the ceilings of roofs, particularly in Queensland where foil had been used.

On the results that I got, interim results, of only five potential live roofs, again I took the step of suspending the program. So I'm very conscious of how difficult and how tragic it is for families facing this situation. I take my responsibilities very seriously.

But I also call on installers who have a duty of care to exercise on these workplaces, in these ceilings, with their own staff to make sure that they do that absolutely properly to make sure that safety is guaranteed for

NEWSREADER: At last count, there were 13 claims from people that they gave you warnings. In fact we're about to talk to the construction union in just a moment.

They said they warned you as well before this got out of hand. Did no one take any notice of all these warnings?

GARRETT: Look, I reject this line that we're hearing about the number of claims that have been made - and the number of warnings, and that we've taken no notice.

In many of these instances, these warnings have come about as a result of me initiating consultations with the industry, with training experts and others, about what risks there were. And of course we recognise that there are risks, you know, putting insulation into a cavity of a roof. That's well understood.

And putting in place, as a consequence of those negotiations and the advice that comes to me, the measures that are agreed as necessary to deal with the issues of risk. So in many instances it's been my action - as a minister, and I detailed this in the Parliament yesterday - that has actually produced a national training model, that has produced safety standards that are greater than the Australian Standards and the building codes, and also that has got a compliance and monitoring program in place to make sure that people do the right thing under this program.

Now it is a process of ensuring that we get every bit of it right along the way. I'm determined to do that. I'll continue to consult. I'll continue to hear views.

But as from today, we have now not only a training module that provides for either competencies or insulation experience, or specifically the experience that you need to do the job for the installer, but also for those that are working with him.

And I know you'll be talking to the unions later on. We consult with them. We listen to everybody's views. And we try and put in place - and we will put in place - the very best system that can be done to deliver the job.

NEWSREADER: Minister, thank you very much for speaking with us this morning. Environment Minister Peter Garrett there live from Canberra.



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