Monday, February 15, 2010

“Creepy Crawlies” Appear To Be More Important Than Roof Safety

Some of the criticisms of Federal Environment Minister Peter Garrett have been a little excessive. To suggest, as Tony Abbott did last week, that the Minister should confront charges of industrial manslaughter is extreme. But there is no doubt that he has been responsible for administering a scheme which has resulted in four tragic deaths, more than 80 house fires, and potentially a thousand or more homes with dangerously electrified roof spaces. There is no doubt that concerns about safety were raised as much as a year ago. There is no doubt that not enough was done to keep the shonks and the cowboys away from the government funded cash bonanza. There is no doubt that there are valid questions to be answered about the competency of the Minister.

Of course the Minister is perfectly right to insist that he cannot be held personally accountable for the actions of dodgy contractors who have not met safety standards. But that is not the issue. The issue is that in the face of repeated warnings about those dodgy operators the Minister, and his government, pressed on full steam ahead and now seem perplexed that they have run the ship into an iceberg. The issue is that even now, after four tragic deaths which should never have occurred, the Minister is trying to give the impression that it is all business as usual, which is an insult to those who have expressed their concerns and to those who have died. He just doesn’t appear to be taking this matter seriously.

Instead of attending a meeting in Canberra today with various stakeholders such as the Master Electricians of Australia, the Queensland Electrical Safety Office, industry groups and unions to discuss safety standards, the Minister is launching a biodiversity research project near Coffs Harbour. While researching what his own office has referred to as “creepy crawlies” in the forest may well be of great importance, and while his attendance at what has been described as a “technical” meeting may not be important in a practical sense, it is an enormous miscalculation in the political sense. It makes him look like he refuses to accept any responsibility, it makes him look like “creepy crawlies” are more important to him than roof safety, and it makes him look like he just doesn’t care.

In politics, it is not only important to take action, it is important to be seen to take action. Unfortunately, this government is rapidly developing a reputation for being all talk, and very little action. Peter Garrett’s handling of this present dilemma is only adding to that reputation.

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