A former bureaucrat says there was a belief that gaining employment in the Rudd government home insulation scheme shouldn’t be made too difficult.
Former prime minister Kevin Rudd’s office believed job creation would be compromised if training requirements for the home insulation program were “too onerous”.
It was a view also reportedly expressed by former senator Mark Arbib before the scheme was blamed for four deaths, one serious injury and more than 100 house fires.
Former federal coordinator general Mike Mrdak has told a royal commission how there was a belief that gaining employment in the scheme shouldn’t be made too difficult.
“There was some concern from Minister Arbib and the prime minister’s office that the training entry requirements not be too onerous so as not to prevent the flow of labour into the industry,” Mr Mrdak’s statement to the inquiry read.
The Rudd government launched the home insulation program to stimulate the economy during the global financial crisis.
Former environment minister Peter Garrett had policy authority over the scheme, while Mr Arbib was tasked with coordinating government stimulus programs.
The pair, and Mr Rudd, had a strong view that the program should deliver rapid employment for a significant number of skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled people, Mr Mrdak’s statement said.
The scheme ended up being flooded with low-skilled workers who only required a general safety induction before entering ceilings.
The inquiry has heard how requirements to train all installers were scaled back to include only supervisors before the July 1, 2009 rollout.
But it was never mandatory for supervisors to be on site when batts were installed.
Under cross-examination by counsel assisting, Keith Wilson, Mr Mrdak said it was always his understanding that training would be part of the scheme.
“Your position was and remained until you left (the role) that training was a critical part of the program?” Mr Wilson asked.
“Yes,” Mr Mrdak replied, adding he believed all installers would be trained.
Mr Mrdak, who helped coordinate all stimulus programs, also told the hearing that he had reservations about the then government’s capacity to deliver a program, which aimed to insulate 2.7 million households in just two and half years.
He even agreed that out of all of the Rudd government’s stimulus measures, the home insulation scheme was the one that kept him up at night.
There were a lot of unknowns because it was, to his knowledge, the first time the Commonwealth had directly delivered such a large program into Australian homes.
The inquiry has already heard how the number of registered home insulation companies jumped from 200 to 10,000 during the scheme.
It has also been told of how bureaucrats were repeatedly warned that insulation installers would die if safety issues weren’t addressed.
Queenslanders Matthew Fuller, Rueben Barnes, Mitchell Sweeney, and Marcus Wilson from NSW, died working under the program.
The royal commission, now in its second week, is expected to hear evidence from Mr Rudd, Mr Garrett and Mr Arbib.