Former prime minister Kevin Rudd has accepted “ultimate responsibility” for Labor’s home insulation debacle, but has used secret cabinet documents to deflect blame onto his ministers and public servants.
On a day when confidential cabinet processes around the scheme were made public, Mr Rudd told a royal commission in Brisbane that bureaucrats failed to bring any safety risks, including the potential for death, to his government’s attention.
Queenslanders Matthew Fuller, Rueben Barnes and Mitchell Sweeney, and Marcus Wilson from NSW lost their lives while working under the $2.8 billion scheme.
Mr Rudd’s uncensored statement says reports to the cabinet committee designed to alert ministers to programs “going off the rails” stated the pink batts scheme was “on track” even after the deaths.
But he says the buck stops with him because as prime minister at the time he has to accept the “good and bad” outcomes of his government’s policies in 2009 and 2010.
“I have accepted ultimate responsibility for what was not just bad, but in this case a deep tragedy,” he told the inquiry on Thursday.
But during his evidence, Mr Rudd suggested the senior ministers responsible for the scheme, Peter Garrett and Mark Arbib, were also to blame.
“The position in which I found myself in was to take advice from the portfolio minister responsible and the public servants advising me,” he said.
But the former Labor leader was hesitant to point the finger at anyone in particular.
“I’m reluctant to say x, y and z failed because a, b and c didn’t do their job,” he said.
Mr Rudd also refused to point out specific problems with the rollout, saying it was the commission’s role, not his, to judge what went wrong.
But he said if his children were victims, he would be just as eager as the affected families to find answers.
“All the families are entitled to feel confused, angry, let down by this system, which ultimately didn’t perform to protect the lives of their loved ones,” he said.
At the heart of the system, he said, were public servants who failed to brief senior ministers on serious safety concerns.
He said he only became aware of flaws after Mr Sweeney became the fourth installer to die in February 2010, eight months after the program’s rollout.
This left him “exasperated, disappointed and despairing”.
While Mr Rudd said one industrial fatality was one too many, he never considered suspending the program after Mr Fuller’s death because nobody told him to.
“That advice was not put to me,” he said.
Mr Sweeney’s father, Malcolm, said on Thursday the commission “will go a long way in helping to make sure something like this doesn’t happen again”.
Mr Rudd has been excused from the inquiry, but might be recalled even though he is flying back to the US on Thursday night.
Former Labor frontbencher Greg Combet, who oversaw the program’s closure, will take the stand when the commission resumes on Friday.
Mr Fuller’s father, Kevin, and Mr Barnes’ sister Sunny, are expected to address the inquiry after Mr Combet’s testimony.