Monday, February 22, 2010

Ignorance Is No Defense

The decision by Peter Garrett to abruptly abandon the home insulation scheme on Friday may have caught many by surprise, but it is difficult to imagine what else he could have done to address increasing concerns about the program. Even so, it is a decision which only reinforces the idea that things should never have been allowed to reach that point in the first place. In a sense, it represents an admission that the program had been a blunder, even though n o such admission has actually been articulated. The scale of the blunder is such that even in calling the whole thing to a halt there will be collateral damage. Jobs will be lost. Suppliers will go out of business.

It had become the classic catch 22, with almost any option available to the government likely to compound the difficulties, and in those circumstances perhaps the curtailment of the program was the lesser of many evils. Aside from the well documented cost of four lives, 100 house fires, 1000 electrified roofs, and 80 000 or more homes with substandard insulation, there is now the cost of further dislocation to the industry and the people that it employs. Perhaps the fallout had become unavoidable, but this is not the end of the government’s troubles by any stretch.

It has now emerged that the Minter Ellison risk assessment report commissioned by the government, and delivered almost a year ago, warned of the precise outcome which has occurred. That is, an industry thrown open to cowboy operators, substandard installations, house fires, and the loss of lives. What is even more incredible is that the Minister, and the Prime Minister for that matter, has claimed not to be fully informed of the contents of that report. In other words, they have concocted this program, commissioned the risk assessment report, and then not bothered to read it.

Even if they personally did not have the time to read every page, surely whoever did read it should have rung the alarm bells so that the Minister would be aware that there was a serious problem. Given the importance of the report, failing to read it in the first place is just as bad as reading it and then failing to act upon it. Ignorance is no defense. In fact, it is only further damning evidence that the Government has mismanaged this scheme from beginning to end.

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