Senior public servants cast aside an email that warned foil insulation had been linked to three New Zealand deaths in 2007, an inquiry has heard.
Senior public servants ignored advice from electricians to ban foil insulation from the pink batts scheme following the first installer death, an inquiry has heard.
They also cast aside an email that warned the product had been linked to three New Zealand deaths in 2007.
Queensland tradesman Matthew Fuller was electrocuted using metal staples to secure foil insulation on October 14, 2009.
A royal commission in Brisbane on Tuesday heard how then environment minister Peter Garrett was subsequently advised not to exclude foil from the program.
Shortly after Mr Fuller’s death, the scheme’s policy and program delivery director, Kathy Belka, signed off on two briefing notes to Mr Garrett that recommended foil not be banned.
Ms Belka said while Master Electricians strongly recommended the product be immediately excluded from the program, the foil insulation industry advised the product could be used safely.
She said her advice to Mr Garrett was based on industry views, but said it was difficult to say in hindsight whether it was appropriate.
The inquiry was also shown an email sent to bureaucrats, including Ms Belka, shortly after Mr Fuller’s death, that warned foil insulation had been linked to three New Zealand deaths in 2007.
But Ms Belka said she couldn’t recall the email from New Zealand insulation representative Gleb Speranski or any other warnings about the fatalities.
“I’m aware of the program in New Zealand but I honestly don’t remember any deaths under the program,” she said.
Ms Belka began working on the home insulation program in August 2009, shortly after its introduction.
She said it was always her understanding that occupational health and safety was the responsibility of the states and territories, but couldn’t remember whether she knew of any specific risks.
“What about someone falling through the ceiling?” counsel assisting Keith Wilson asked.
“I can’t be certain,” she replied.
Although four installers died, Ms Belka said she hadn’t given the troubled program much thought since its axing in 2010.
“Four people died under this program … have you given much thought to this matter over the last four or five years?” Mr Wilson asked.
“I can’t say,” she replied.
Mr Wilson probed her recollection further.
“I’ve thought about it since I’ve been called and since the commission started,” she replied, adding she hadn’t given it much thought.
“I suggest that’s simply incredulous,” Mr Wilson said.
Later, under cross-examination by Commonwealth lawyer Tom Howe QC, Ms Belka said she had been too busy having a baby, moving house and changing jobs to think about her involvement in the home insulation program.
Mr Wilson then questioned why Ms Belka’s recollection of the scheme was so poor given it had been blamed for four deaths and was the subject of political controversy.
He suggested her “professed lack of recollection” might have been a way to avoid answering questions.
The royal commission before Ian Hanger QC continues.