A former secretary of the federal environment department has apologised to the families of four men who died because of Labor’s home insulation scheme.
A senior bureaucrat involved in the Rudd government’s home insulation program says she’s sorry four insulation installers died and wants their families to accept her apology.
Matthew Fuller, Rueben Barnes, Mitchell Sweeney, all from Queensland, and Marcus Wilson from NSW, lost their lives while installing pink batts under a scheme introduced by the former Labor government.
Robyn Kruk, who was the environment department secretary at the time of the home insulation scheme, has told the royal commission into the botched program that she is sorry for the deaths.
“I really do want the families to accept my personal apologies and that of the department,” Ms Kruk told the inquiry on Friday.
“There wasn’t any departmental officer from myself down who wasn’t absolutely devastated by the deaths.”
Those officers would do everything to assist the commission to determine what lessons could be learnt from the men’s deaths, she said.
Ms Kruk’s apology came after the inquiry was shown an email which she described as “very distressing”.
New Zealand insulation representative Glen Speranski sent the email to an environment department public servant on October 20, 2009, six days after Mr Fuller became the first installer to die under the scheme.
Mr Fuller was using metal staples to secure foil insulation, a practice which killed three New Zealand installers in 2007.
“It is a real shame that another installer had to die fitting foil under the floor,” Mr Speranski wrote, adding New Zealand stopped using foil on projects funded by the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority in July 2008, against the wishes of some industry interests.
Three of the installers who died under Australia’s home insulation program, announced in February 2009, were using foil insulation.
The last was Mitchell Sweeney, who died on February 4, 2010.
Five days after his death, then environment minister Peter Garrett suspended the use of foil insulation, and terminated the economic stimulus program two weeks later.
The Sweeney family’s barrister Stephen Kiem, QC, asked Ms Kruk why foil wasn’t banned earlier in the program.
“The advice was very clearly that the product was safe,” Ms Kruk said.
She said the government had looked at what could be done to minimise risks surrounding the installation of foil insulation.
The use of metal staples was banned in November 2009, but Ms Kruk said the government became increasingly concerned about the number of operators still using them.
The inquiry, which has been going for two weeks, is investigating what warnings the government received about the home insulation program and whether the men’s deaths could have been avoided.
It has already heard how bureaucrats were repeatedly warned installers would die on the job if safety concerns weren’t addressed.
It has also been told that installers only required a general safety induction before entering ceilings.
The royal commission before Ian Hanger, QC, resumes on Monday.