Early Lessons from an Avoidable Tragedy

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Wednesday, March 26th, 2014
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The royal commission before Ian Hanger QC has commenced in Brisbane and one of the first details revealed was that public servants had little time to make the financing arrangement for the Rudd government’s $2.8 billion home insulation scheme.

Department of Environment assistant secretary Mary Wiley-Smith has told the inquiry she and a colleague worked long hours over the Australia Day long weekend in 2009 so the finance department could approve the costings.

She was asked to cost the program within two days and not inform colleagues or contact industry. Moreover, even though they recommended a five-year program, the Rudd government tried to implement it in two years.

We know four young men lost their lives and the scheme has been blamed for hundreds of house fires.

Hanger has been tasked with establishing the facts, attributing blame (if deserved) and more importantly, ensuring such a circumstance does not happen in the future.

The families of the young men deserve those answers.

Although the commission has only just commenced, lessons have already been learned – not least surrounding the need for effective management of roll-outs such as this as well as the perils of taking the industry for granted.

Indeed, a number of practitioners foresaw problems with the scheme but were not consulted and were powerless to do anything about it.

Hindsight should not have been necessary, but that is of no solace to families of those who lost their lives.

Even today, our industry can learn from past mistakes. Yet we still only take a half-hearted approach to the skills and experience needed to manage and deliver an industry that our young men and women can have confidence in and their families can reasonably expect them to arrive home safe and sound from a day’s work.

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