Friday, February 26, 2010

Should Peter Garrett stay or go?

The recent problems with the botched federal home insulation scheme is another example of politics leading to perverse outcomes.

The case for improving energy efficiency of our buildings - both commercial and residential - is quite clear. Improvements in energy efficiency of both the building envelope and appliances translate to less energy use and therefore less carbon emissions.

The Labor government announced a grand scheme to put insulation in the roofs of 2 million homes.  This sounded good.

However, haste makes waste. Rolling the scheme out in a hurry for political reasons - possibly due to the desire to get some wins on the board in the lead up to the next federal election has led to serious problems, including:

  • insulation being replaced when it did not need to be
  • substandard installation, which reduces the efficiency of the insulation
  • unsafe work practices - one installed died due to heat exhaustion and others died from electrocution linked to foil insulation and staples contacting house wiring
  • unsafe houses - thousands are now at risk of ceiling fires due to faulty installation
  • with the scheme now canned, many installers are now out of work, or soon will be.
All this was done under the oversight of Environment Minister Peter Garrett, who has no background or experience in either building regulations, program management or insulation.

In addition, the States are responsible for building codes and enforcing safe building practices, not Peter Garrett.  This fact seems to have been completely overlooked by the mainstream media.

Garrett's department is obviously at fault too - he has apparently been given little or no information regarding the risks of the accelerated program. If this is the case then senior figures in his department should be disciplined.  If Garrett is not telling the truth about when he read the risk report, he should be sacked.

As it is, Garrett has been demoted, with the insulation rollout being shifted to Penny Wong's Department of Climate Change.  Of course, Penny Wong and Greg Combet no nothing about insulation either.  And Penny Wong has presided over the political debacle of the CPRS.

Our political system is demonstrably incapable of considered and/or efficient action on this type of initiative.  Politics simply perverts what should straight forward and simple.

On the balance of it, I think Peter Garrett should have been demoted, but I think that someone senior in his department should be too.  Kevin Rudd needs to accept responsibility for the failure of governance that allowed these problems to occur.

The insulation program should be under the jurisdiction of a non-political taskforce with the right skills and oversight, not politicians.

Link: Peter Garrett pushed aside by PM

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