Lawyer Bill Potts Interviewed On The ABC AM Program

Stephanie Smail reported this story on Monday, March 17, 2014 08:24:00

CHRIS ULHMANN: A lawyer for the one of the young men who died while working on the Rudd government’s botched federal home insulation program believes former prime minister Kevin Rudd should be called to give evidence before a Royal Commission into the scheme.

The Commission is investigating how the multi-billion dollar economic stimulus plan was rolled out in 2009 and whether the government ignored warnings about the safety risks involved.

Stephanie Smail reports.

STEPHANIE SMAIL: Twenty-two-year-old Mitchell Sweeney died installing insulation in a roof cavity north of Cairns in 2009.

Peter Koutsoukis from Maurice Blackburn is representing his family in the Royal Commission.

PETER KOUTSOUKIS: What the family really want is an outcome which will ensure that no other family goes through what they’ve suffered, so they want to see outcomes which are legislation that plays some part hopefully in preventing a similar accident occurring in the future.

STEPHANIE SMAIL: Matthew Fuller, Rueben Barnes and Marcus Wilson also died working on the so-called “pink batts” scheme.

The Royal Commissioner Ian Hanger QC will being hearing evidence in Brisbane today about how the Rudd government established the program and the way it dealt with warnings about the workplace health and safety risks involved.

Lawyer Bill Potts is representing the family of Rueben Barnes, who was 16 when he died.

BILL POTTS: It is expected that the Royal Commission will hear evidence that both industry groups and experts in this area raised at an early stage safety issues, both with the installation process and the training that was actually being given to the installers.

The question is when those warnings were made and why weren’t they heeded.

STEPHANIE SMAIL: The insulation scheme was set up quickly to generate jobs in the wake of the global financial crisis.

But, a recent report by Queensland Coroner Michael Barnes into the deaths of three of the workers found the home insulation scheme was rolled out too quickly, with inadequate safeguards.

That report prompted an apology from the then prime minister Kevin Rudd to the families of the workers.

Bill Potts says the Royal Commission has a broader scope to investigate the issue.

BILL POTTS: What was not explored by the inquest was the upper level government findings and decision making process and that’s what the Royal Commission here is going to focus upon.

STEPHANIE SMAIL: The former prime ministers Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard and other senior figures in the former government have been contacted by the Commission and asked to provide documents.

They face the prospect of being called to appear in person before the Royal Commission.

Bill Potts says claims that the Rudd government was warned repeatedly about the risks should be thoroughly explored.

BILL POTTS: We are most interested in cross examining the former minister Garrett, certainly if relevant, former prime minister Rudd as to the thinking behind the government and the need to rush this out in circumstances where it appears that safety was not in the forefront, but speed was.

CHRIS ULHMANN: Lawyer Bill Potts ending Stephanie Smail’s report.

ABC AM Program