Kevin Rudd has dragged into public view the secret cabinet processes behind the 2009 home insulation program that resulted in four young men losing their lives.
Blackouts on large sections of the former prime minister’s statement to the royal commission into the insulation program have been lifted, revealing the program never raised alarms, even as people were dying.
In a statement largely laying fault at the feet of the public service, Mr Rudd revealed the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet had a briefing system to warn cabinet about “any programs going off the rails”.
The reports were colour-coded: green for “on track”, amber for “maintaining close watch” and red for “in difficulty”.
His statement reveals that, from its July, 2009 inception to March 2010 the program was never rated anything other than green for “on track”.
For the first time, confidential details of cabinet meetings have been exposed after commonwealth government lawyers dropped their opposition to Mr Rudd’s full statement being made public.
Large sections and in some cases whole pages of Mr Rudd’s statement were initially “redacted” because commonwealth lawyers wanted to protect cabinet confidentiality.
Lifting the redactions has revealed details of reports considered by cabinet and decisions taken, some of them routine, others showing that Mr Rudd says cabinet was not alerted to problems in the insulation scheme.
Among the details is Mr Rudd’s recollection of a January 28, 2009 cabinet meeting that considered the rollout of the Home Insulation Program.
Issues discussed concerned timelines and costs, Mr Rudd says, but workplace safety standards never came up.
The statement also shows a public service task force was set up four days after the February 4, 2010, death of Mitchell Sweeney – the last worker to die during the life of the scheme.
On February 17, the taskforce advised Mr Rudd’s cabinet committee of senior ministers of “significant program design risks, notably safety risks … and the need to exit the overall program”.
The same day the committee accepted the taskforce’s recommendation to terminate the program.
Mr Rudd said any safety or regulatory concerns were the responsibility of bureaucrats “because in our system of government, ministers come and go”.
He challenged claims that the July 1 rollout was rushed on his orders, saying the date was a carryover from an earlier, smaller program.
“Had officials come forward with a concern about safety for either workers or for householders arising from a 1 July commencement date, I know myself well enough and my colleagues well enough that I would say ‘whoa, what’s happening here’,” he told the commission.