Batts Scheme ‘Cowboys’ Underestimated

THE senior bureaucrat responsible for rolling out the Rudd government’s botched home insulation scheme has admitted he underestimated the level of “miscreant behaviour” by rogue installers, contractors and employers.

The Royal Commission into the Home Insulation Program is still hearing testimony from witness Kevin Keeffe, the former assistant secretary of the Environment Department in 2009 who was charged with rolling out the stimulus program.

Blamed for the deaths of four inexperienced installers and more than 100 house fires, the $2.5 billion scheme was rushed into existence by the Rudd government in response to the global financial crisis. It was announced in February 2009, officially rolled out on July 1, 2009, and cut short in February 2010 after the deaths.

Mr Keeffe, who is no longer a public servant, today agreed with barrister Tom Howe QC, for the commonwealth government, that he had underestimated the “level of miscreant behaviour” by cowboy insulation installers, contractors and employees when designing the program.

The royal commission has heard the market was flooded by new businesses and new installers after the announcement of the scheme. Many did not have any experience in the insulation business.

Mr Keeffe was also cross-examined by solicitor Bill Potts, for the father of 16-year-old Rueben Barnes, who was electrocuted in November 2009 while installing insulation in central Queensland.

He said everyone involved in the program “could have done more” to prevent deaths, if they had been given more time to sufficiently organise training and accreditation, as well as operating under less pressure.

“In terms of span and responsibilities and the program rollout that I was responsible for, there was certainly an argument to be made that all of the people involved in developing the program to the scale that it was, could have done more to prevent such an occasion (as Rueben’s death) happening,” Mr Keeffe said.

However, later, Mr Potts asked: “It’s said that success has many parents but failure is an orphan. Is there any parent … can this (failure) be sheeted home to any department or individual?”

Mr Keeffe: “In my view … it’s the collective chain of circumstances, actions and inactions.”

Mr Potts: “It’s an orphan then?”

Mr Keeffe: “I would like to help you to point to a person or an organisation, but I cannot.”

The hearings continue.