Former PM Kevin Rudd has shown he was never going to take the Abbott government’s pursuit of his failed pink batts scheme lying down.
Kevin Rudd has come out swinging at the royal commission into his government’s disastrous home insulation scheme.
The former prime minister was not aiming at the commission but at the Abbott government, which called the Royal Commission into the Home Insulation Program after it vanquished him at the September federal election.
Mr Rudd appeared at the commission for the first time on Wednesday afternoon, sitting impassively in the dock as his barrister – top-flight silk Bret Walker SC – said his client would not verify his statement because it had been heavily redacted by government lawyers and would not allow him to tell the truth.
Large sections of Mr Rudd’s witness statement have been blacked out or “redacted” to keep them from public view on the grounds of cabinet confidentiality.
“It is an intolerable state of affairs,” Mr Walker told the commission.
Mr Walker told commissioner Ian Hanger QC the terms of the commission had placed cabinet processes – usually highly confidential – at the heart of the inquiry.
“The present government can’t have it both ways. It can’t require you to report faithfully on the matter and prevent you from pursuing the evidence about it and, worse, commit the unfairness of not permitting the prime minister of the former government to give his answer to the allegations,” Mr Walker said.
He suggested Mr Rudd’s statement on the 2009 pink batts scheme would be substantially different from the view that it was rushed out as a make-work program in response to the global financial crisis, resulting in the deaths of four young and inexperienced installers.
“These are not muted allegations – they start off with the idea this was a long weekend idea,” he said.
“We have an utterly opposite version.”
Mr Rudd’s challenge comes after federal Attorney-General George Brandis took the unprecedented and controversial step of making confidential cabinet documents available to the commission.
Legal argument over the redaction continues.
Mr Rudd took the stand late in the day after former environment minister Peter Garrett, who was responsible for the batts scheme but had earlier denied he carried sole responsibility.
“It was the department, the officials that advised me, but it was also the responsibility of safety regulators, the employers and the persons in question,” Mr Garrett said.
While Mr Rudd did not give evidence, Mr Walker described his client as “the chair of cabinet”, rather than a minister with administrative responsibilities and described the insulation program as a cabinet decision – signalling that Mr Rudd is not likely to shoulder sole responsibility, either.