Senior bureaucrats did nothing to have deadly foil insulation banned from the Rudd government’s home insulation scheme, despite early warnings, an inquiry has heard.
Industry groups had raised concerns in February 2009, the same month the former Labor government announced the $2.8 billion stimulus measure.
But under questioning on Wednesday for the third day of a royal commission into the scheme, witness Kevin Keeffe, a former assistant secretary in the environment department, said policymakers didn’t see a need to have foil sheeting banned.
“I do not recall any suggestion from policymakers,” he said.
Stephen Keim QC, the barrister representing the family of insulation installer Mitchell Sweeney, 22, who was electrocuted while working near Cairns in February 2010, asked Mr Keeffe why he didn’t push to have foil banned from the program.
“It’s a matter of position and degree,” Mr Keeffe replied, referring to his public service rank.
Mr Keeffe also confirmed that safety concerns were raised by the insulation industry during February 2009.
“We recorded accurately the concerns raised at that first industry council,” he said.
A New Zealand insulation industry representative had pointed out how three New Zealanders had died installing foil insulation in 2007.
The inquiry also heard that Australia’s home insulation scheme had been operating for almost two months before a printed safety pocketbook was made available to installers.
The stimulus scheme began rolling out on July 1, 2009, with rebates made available immediately to households.
But Mr Keeffe didn’t authorise printing of the safety booklet until August 27.
A website version was published on August 10.
It included a paragraph warning that “risk to the installer can be life threatening if live wires are cut or touched”.
Foil insulation was not banned until February 2010, five days after Mr Sweeney’s death.
The home insulation scheme was terminated that same month.
The royal commission is examining the scheme’s failings after the deaths of four installers.
The inquiry continues.