Monday, 15 March 2010
Higgins Electorate: Home Insulation Program
I rise tonight to speak about the government’s failed Home Insulation Program. It is a program that will go down in Australian history as one of the worst examples of systemic policy failure that this country has seen in the last 20 years. It is a policy failure with the devastating human consequence of not only the loss of homes through 94 associated house fires but, significantly and tragically, the terrible loss of four young lives.
What we now know is that there are around 240,000 houses which have received unsafe or substandard insulation. This is an extraordinary figure that has grave ramifications for individuals and families throughout Australia. The ramifications of this botched scheme range from the inconvenience and cost caused to those who must now hire someone to reinstall the insulation properly or to take it out, to the deadly problem of approximately 1,500 electrified roofs.
There are hundreds of thousands of people across the country, including in my own electorate of Higgins, who are unsure if their house is safe. And there is a feeling of anger that the Rudd government, despite warnings from the very beginning of the potential dangers associated with the program, ignored those warnings and the 21 warnings from official authorities thereafter.
It is clear now that the Rudd government’s wilful disregard for safety and propriety allowed new insulation operators to go into the market and into people’s homes without adequate training, supervision or regulation. Australian taxpayers are footing the bill for this waste and mismanagement—paying not only for the failed program at a cost of $1 billion but for the blowout of another $1 billion and as yet unspecified costs to audit and fix safety issues associated with dodgy installations.
Tonight I want to mention two people in my electorate whose experience reflects the experience of so many others who have been in contact with my office. The first person is Mrs Susan Martin, an elderly resident of Higgins, who was approached by an insulation firm on 25 January this year. On 27 January the company undertook the insulation installation. Unbeknown to her, the company did not complete the job and failed to replace the roof tiles that they had removed when gaining access to her roof, leaving the inside of her roof exposed.
When it rained two days later the inside of the roof was soaked, including the insulation. The fumes from the insulation material set off her smoke alarms, causing her to fear for her safety. At significant personal cost, Mrs Martin got a builder to come out and inspect her property to assess the damage and replace the tiles on her roof. The builder raised concerns that the faulty installation may have caused structural damage to her home when the rain came into her roof and she is currently considering her legal options. The Australian taxpayer paid this insulation company $1,200 for this job.
The second person is Ms Felicity Kiddle. Ms Kiddle is also an elderly resident who was approached by an insulation installer who knocked on her door and told her about the government’s offer. The installer assured her that they were registered with the government and that there would not be a problem with the installation. They began the installation on 9 December 2009 and installed only a fraction of the insulation required by laying it over the manhole in her roof to make it appear as though the entire roof had been covered. This company received the full $1,200 from the government.
It was not until a professional plumber entered the Ms Kiddle’s roof for an unrelated matter that the insulation job was found to be incomplete. Ms Kiddle was most concerned that the installation company had been paid when work had not been completed and that the work that had been done had perhaps not been done safely. She contacted the hotline and the response from the hotline was that she could fill in a form from the fair trade commission if she was not satisfied with the work and that, if she wanted it inspected, she would have to pay for this herself. It simply is not good enough. Further investigation revealed that no details of the company could be found on the ASIC website or in the White Pages. The government’s home insulation scheme has been a catastrophe and a debacle from start to finish. It is about time that the Prime Minister apologised to the Australian people for this failure. (Time expired)