The head of the electricians’ association has told an inquiry the Rudd government’s home insulation program was a recipe for disaster.
The Rudd government’s decision to include foil products in its home insulation program was “a recipe for disaster” that could have easily been avoided, an inquiry has heard.
Master Electricians chief executive Malcolm Richards says the product should never have been permitted in the scheme given the dangers posed by electrical cables in the roofs of older homes.
Mr Richards has told a royal commission in Brisbane, which wound up on Monday, that allowing foil to be retrofitted was a “recipe for disaster” that Master Electricians would have advised against had it been consulted.
“If it wasn’t funded in the first place, we would have eliminated this as a risk issue,” he said.
Two of the four young men killed in the program were using foil insulation.
Mr Richards said the government’s failure to consult Master Electricians before the program’s July 1, 2009 rollout was a “critical oversight” given the inclusion of foil increased the risk of electrocution.
The association only became aware foil was being used in late August 2009, after members received several calls about power tripping out at homes where the product had been installed.
They were “horrified” to discover metal staples used to secure foil sheeting had been driven into electrical cabling, Mr Richards said.
That October, Master Electricians drafted a warning letter highlighting the dangers of foil to then environment minister Peter Garrett.
But it wasn’t sent before Matthew Fuller, 25, became the first installer to die when he put a metal staple through electrical cabling while laying foil insulation in Queensland on October 14 2009.
Two days after Mr Fuller’s death, Mr Richards sent the letter urging the government to ban foil immediately.
He received a response from Mr Garrett on November 19 2009, a day after 16-year-old Rueben Barnes became the scheme’s second fatality.
Marcus Wilson, 19, was killed installing insulation less than a week later, while Mitchell Sweeney, 22, was the last to die under the program on February 4, 2010.
Mr Richards said it was regrettable Masters Electricians didn’t raise its concerns about foil sooner, although he doubted whether it would have done any good.
“From the ensuing events, I deem it highly unlikely we would have been heard or listened to until the events got serious,” he said.
Foil was banned from the program on February 9, 2010, five days after Mr Sweeney died installing it.
The scheme was ultimately canned less than two weeks later amid allegations of fraud and unsafe work practices.
A royal commission has been investigating what warnings Labor received about the program and whether the men’s deaths could have been avoided.
Former prime minister Kevin Rudd and then environment minister Peter Garrett have both accepted “ultimate responsibility” for the program, but said public servants failed to pass on serious safety warnings.
But bureaucrats have said horrendous deadlines denied them adequate time to consider safety risks.
Commissioner Ian Hanger, QC, has been granted an extension to consider large volumes of evidence, including 77,000 documents.
Mr Hanger now has until August 31 to produce his report.
He may recall witnesses if he intends to make adverse findings against them.