The Government has moved to end the ongoing damage from its Home Insulation Program and the issue of foil insulation installation by halting the program two years ahead of schedule and replacing it with an overhauled scheme that prevents installers from directly claiming funding.
Only in November last year, the Government had brought forward additional expenditure for the program, so popular had it been with households, which could receive a rebate for installing home insulation, delivered direct to installers. The vast amounts of money involved – the program was to be worth over $1.4b this financial year and $1.1b in 2010-11, had lured shonky operators and inexperienced installers into what was, until the economic stimulus package announced last year, a small industry.
The program was designed to provide employment for low-skilled workers who could be rapidly trained in insulation installation, thereby providing for a quick employment hit in the face of the oncoming economic slowdown. The program was accelerated as operators, lured by Government rebates, moved into the sector and began door-knocking and spruiking the program.
Last year, however, concerns began to mount after a newly-hired installer died from heat exhaustion. Three other deaths followed, including one in recent weeks, when installers were electrocuted.
Garrett has been under pressure over the safety standards intended to accompany funding, despite setting them to conform with Australians Standards. On 9 February, Garrett suspended the use of foil insulation from the program. Since then, pressure has mounted on Garrett and the program.
Under the revised scheme announced this afternoon, rebates for insulation, solar hot water or heat pump hot water systems will only be claimable through Medicare by the householder, which undercuts the direct marketing of products to households by installers.
There’ll also be a new registration scheme for installers and a compliance scheme to enforce standards.
Garrett also announced an overhaul of the bungled Green Loans scheme, capping the number of assessors, establishing new booking procedures and evening out the flow of assessments to meet industry complaints that the energy assessment sector had been swamped by new entrants and shonky operators.
The overhaul is the Government’s attempt to drive the issue out of the media cycle, where it has jammed the Government’s media management for two weeks and given Tony Abbott crucial momentum into an election year. With Parliament returning on Monday, the Government will be hoping for clear air free of constant criticisms of Garrett’s performance and accusations relating to the deaths that occurred in the insulation installation industry.
Garrett has also announced training arrangements for installers displaced by the revision of the insulation program, with the aim of heading off inevitable media anecdotes of installers who have lost their jobs because of the Garrett “backflip”. The current programs will run for 7 more days, doubtless prompting deadline frenzy stories over the coming week.
While the Opposition will continue to pursue Garrett, the Government strategy is to suck the oxygen out of the story so that it can get its own agenda and attacks on Tony Abbott back into the spotlight.
The Government should now turn its attention to cleaning out the senior ranks of the Department of the Environment, which has comprehensively bungled the schemes, failed and humiliated its Minister and given the Government a bloody nose it didn’t need when facing up to a new Opposition Leader. The position of Departmental Secretary Robyn Kruk must be very problematic.