Bureaucrats charged with designing the Rudd government’s home insulation scheme overlooked the known dangers of foil, a royal commission was told.
Foil insulation was never considered a dangerous choice early in the Rudd government’s home insulation scheme, despite the material being linked to three deaths in New Zealand.
A royal commission heard on Tuesday how Australian bureaucrats knew about the deaths, but still allowed foil insulation to be used.
Queenslanders Matthew Fuller, Rueben Barnes and Mitchell Sweeney would later die while installing foil insulation under the scheme, launched as an economic stimulus measure in February 2009.
The $20 million royal commission is investigating whether their deaths and another in NSW were avoidable.
It emerged on Tuesday that bureaucrats became aware about the New Zealand deaths at a meeting with insulation industry representatives, less than three weeks after the scheme’s announcement.
A senior federal environment department public servant, Beth Brunoro, told the inquiry the deaths were mentioned, along with a raft of potential safety issues.
Counsel assisting Keith Wilson asked whether Ms Brunoro thought it was relevant to find out more about the New Zealand deaths after the meeting.
“Not me personally, no,” she told the inquiry.
Ms Brunoro said a technical team was charged with collecting information about occupation, health and safety issues, but was unsure if the New Zealand deaths were probed further.
Mr Wilson asked Ms Brunoro if she expected that would be done.
“It was more around considering the breadth of safety issues that were raised,” she replied.
Mr Wilson said that had those inquiries been made, it would have been evident that the New Zealand men died while using metal staples to secure foil installation.
While giving evidence via video link from Canberra, Ms Brunoro also said risks were raised about various insulation products, not just foil, before the scheme’s rollout across Australia.
“There wasn’t a strong sense that it should be excluded on its own,” she said.
“It was in amongst a broad discussion about safety issues.”
Former federal environment minister Peter Garrett suspended the use of foil insulation in the program in February 2010, not long after the third Queensland death.
The home insulation program was scrapped that month.
Mr Garrett, former prime minister Kevin Rudd and former senator Mark Arbib, who was charged with co-ordinating government stimulus programs, will be called as witnesses at the commission.
The inquiry has already heard how Ms Brunoro and her colleague Mary Wiley-Smith were given just two days to cost the scheme.
Ms Brunoro will continue her evidence when the royal commission before Ian Hanger QC resumes on Wednesday.