Former prime minister Kevin Rudd has blamed public servants for the rushed rollout of Labor’s botched home insulation program, after a dead insulation installer’s father gave evidence.
The former Labor leader told a royal commission in Brisbane the scheme would have been delayed had bureaucrats asked for more time to assess safety risks.
His evidence came after Malcolm Sweeney told the inquiry no family should have to endure what they did, when his son Mitchell was electrocuted laying insulation sheeting in February 2010.
“I’d finally like to take this opportunity to say to … we’ll never stop missing you,” he said in a brief appearance.
Mr Rudd then appeared, addressing claims from environment department staffers that they were put under extreme pressure to meet the program’s July 1, 2009 rollout deadline.
“Had any public servant, any minister, advised the cabinet that there was a safety risk to either workers or to householders then I’m confident in saying the reaction from ministers would be to say ‘whoa, this has to be dealt with’,” he said.
“And if that involved a delay, then that would have been a response.”
Counsel assisting Keith Wilson, QC, asked whether the feasibility of the rollout date was ever researched.
“We rely on the advice of our public service friends on that,” Mr Rudd replied.
The former PM said it was important for his government to proceed with the stimulus to create employment for low-skilled workers during the global financial crisis.
But he said its implementation and timing came down to the advice of bureaucrats.
“The implementation arrangements and implementation timetable were legitimately the basis of advice from professional public servants and their engagement with industry and their engagement with others,” he said.
But those officials may not have realised the timetable wasn’t set in stone.
Mr Rudd said he couldn’t recall telling then commonwealth co-ordinator Mike Mrdak or former senator Mark Arbib, who oversaw all stimulus programs, that the rollout date was flexible.
He also said he had no recollection of telling Mr Arbib to “go and sell those pink batts” as the former Labor factional powerbroker had told the commission in his evidence.
Mr Rudd said he told Mr Arbib: “You need to watch this very carefully so that things can be nipped in the bud if there’s a problem.