Mark Williams Appears At Coroners Inquest Concerning The Home Insulation Program (HIP)

Acting Prime Minister Anthony Albanese is sorry for the way the Rudd government handled its home insulation scheme, after a coroner found the rush in rolling it out played a role in the deaths of three tradesmen.

The Queensland tradesmen were electrocuted in 2009 and 2010 while installing roofing batts as part of the former Rudd government’s controversial home insulation scheme, since discontinued.

Queensland coroner Michael Barnes on Thursday said the rushed economic stimulus program in response to the global financial crisis had put the economy ahead of human safety.

“Because a major focus of this program was the stimulation of the economy to counter the effects of the global financial crisis it needed to proceed far more quickly than that, but not at the cost of human life,” he said.

Mr Albanese was asked if he, as acting prime minister, would apologise for the way the program was handled by the Rudd government.

“Absolutely,” he told Sky News.

“Any tragedy is one too many.”

He said he accepted the coroner’s findings but would not be drawn on possible consequences for the federal government.

“The consequences were that the businesses that were involved were prosecuted (and) were found to be negligent in terms of their responsibilities,” Mr Albanese said.

Deputy opposition leader Julie Bishop said the coroner’s findings were a “scathing, damning indictment” of the former Rudd government – and the prime minister should ultimately take responsibility.

The coroner was also critical of the Queensland government’s work safety agencies for failing to respond promptly to the increased risks.

Mr Barnes recommended an immediate review and a public awareness campaign about minimising the risks of working in roofs.

The state government was also urged to consider an expert recommendation to install more home electrical safety switches.

But blame also rested with employers and supervisors of the tradesmen, who weren’t adequately trained.

The coroner referred two company directors to prosecutors for breaching the Electrical Safety Act.

One of those men, Christopher Richards, was also referred for perjury after giving false evidence during the inquest.

A supervisor, Chris McKay, was referred to the Department of Justice and Attorney General for potential Workplace Health and Safety Act breaches.

Through his lawyer Mark Williams, Rueben’s father Murray Barnes said he was happy with the coroner’s recommendations, hoping they would prevent a similar tragedy.

“He feels like justice has been done to an extent, but no amount of justice can bring back his son,” Mr Williams told reporters.

“Children should be burying their parents as opposed to the other way around.”

Master Electricians Australia chief executive Malcolm Richards said it first raised safety concerns with the government during the scheme’s initial rollout, and criticised the program for being implemented too fast without adequate safeguards.

The scheme also killed a NSW tradesman.

The three tradesmen – Rueben Barnes, 16, Matthew James Fuller, 25, and Mitchell Scott Sweeney, 22 – died installing roofing batts as part of the home insulation scheme.

Kevin Fuller, speaking to ABC television’s 7.30 Report, criticised Mr Rudd for not apologising for his son Matthew’s death to his face.

He also criticised the scheme for being rushed and poorly managed.

Matthew’s mother Christine Fuller said she wanted to see Mr Rudd “disappear”.

Bleijie says Rudd must answer for young insulation deaths

| 4th Jul 2013 12:17 PM | Updated: 3:42 PM

Rueben Barnes
Rueben Barnes

LATEST: Attorney-General and Minister for Justice Jarrod Bleijie says Prime Minister Kevin Rudd can no longer avoid questions about his failed foil insulation scheme, following findings by the Coroner.

Coroner Michael Barnes found the Federal Labor Government’s rush to conceive and implement the program contributed to a lack of proper safeguards, which in turn contributed to the deaths of three Queensland men.

“My heart goes out to the loved ones of Matthew Fuller, Rueben Barnes and Mitchell Sweeney,” Mr Bleijie said.

“These three young men lost their lives because of a chaotic, rushed and underdone Federal Government policy.

“Kevin Rudd took ownership of the scheme under his first Prime Ministership and the responsibility should lie with him.

“These tragedies were preventable. In April 2009, Queensland’s Building Services Authority warned the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet about the risks but it never responded.

“It took Matthew’s death to make it realise there was a problem.

“The former Queensland Labor Government also sat on its hands on this issue.

“Within months of being elected, the Newman Government directed the Coroner to hold this inquest into Matthew, Rueben and Mitchell’s deaths.

“I thank the Coroner for his findings and I will consider his recommendations.”

Lawyer Mark Williams, representing Rueben Barnes' father Murray, speaks to the media outside Brisbane Coroner's Court.
Lawyer Mark Williams, representing Rueben Barnes’ father Murray, speaks to the media outside Brisbane Coroner’s Court.

Dad welcomes findings but says no-one can bring his son back

UPDATE: The father of Rueben Barnes believes justice has been done “to an extent” but knows no justice will bring back his son.

Murray Barnes was not at the Brisbane Coroner’s Court on Thursday when State Coroner Michael Barnes handed down his findings into the three Home Insulation program-related deaths.

But through his lawyer, Mark Williams, he said he was very happy with the inquest result.

Mr Williams said his client felt justice had been done – to an extent.

“But no amount of justice can bring back his son, children should be burying their parents as opposed to the other way around,” Mr Williams said outside court.

“He wanted mechanisms to be put in place to ensure that no further deaths occur and there has now been those recommendations made and some of those we look forward to seeing a implementation of as urgently as possible.”

Mr Williams said Rueben’s father was happy with the Coroner’s referrals to the DPP.

Insulation bosses could face prosecution over Rueben Barnes’ death

TWO directors of the company that employed home insulation victim Rueben Kelly Barnes could face prosecution after the State Coroner referred their actions to the Director of Public Prosecutions.

The move is part of State Coroner Michael Barnes’s findings following the inquest into three deaths related to the Federal Government’s botched Home Insulation Program.

Rueben Barnes died on November 18, 2009, when he used a metal pole to push insulation into place in a Stanwell home, near Rockhampton, and touched an electrified screw that had pierced an electrical cable.

He was working for Arrow Property Maintenance when he was electrocuted.

The inquest into Ruben’s death also investigated the deaths of Mitchell Scott Sweeney and Matthew James Fuller, who also died during the roll-out of the Rudd Government’s home insulation program.

Mitchell, 22, was electrocuted installing insulation in North Queensland in February 2010.

Matthew, 25, died in Logan in October 2009.

In handing down his findings in Brisbane this morning, Mr Barnes said Rueben’s induction and training was clearly insufficient.

He said Rueben’s death could have been avoided if the power was isolated in the home he was installing insulation in.

But he said that was not mandated or common practice in the building industry.

The Coroner’s Court also heard there was suspicion Rueben’s employer, Arrow director Chris Jackson, committed perjury when he gave evidence.

Rueben Barnes's life was celebrated by friends and family at a moving service.
Rueben Barnes’s life was celebrated by friends and family at a moving service.File

Mr Barnes also said Rueben Barnes’s siblings argued Mr Jackson and co-director, Richard Jackson, should also be prosecuted for not complying with the Electrical Safety Act.

Mr Barnes found a prima facie case existed and referred the directors to the Queensland Justice Department chief executive to decide on prosecution.

In 2010 following Rueben’s death, Arrow Property Maintenance as a company was fined $110,00 for breaching the Electrical Safety Act

This is the house where Rueben Barnes died from an electric shock while installing insulation in an “electrically charged” wall cavity.
This is the house where Rueben Barnes died from an electric shock while installing insulation in an “electrically charged” wall cavity.Allan Reinikka

Mr Barnes concentrated his recommendations on the State Government, which he found failed to adequately respond to the increased risk of harm that came with the Home Insulation Program roll-out.

The Coroner recommended the Fair Trading Office undertake a review of the failure and embark on a public awareness campaign regarding the risk of electrocution in roof spaces.

Mr Barnes also found the industry representatives that did play a part in the home insulation program planning process seemed to have been distracted by getting a slice of the pie.

He also commented on the speed in which the program was rolled out with the interest in stimulating the economy.

The risk of physical danger, damage to property and fraud should have been obvious, Mr Barnes said.

Coroner refers home insulation bosses to prosecutors after deaths of three tradesmen

by: Brooke Baskin | From:The Courier-Mail | July 04, 2013 4:06PM

Mitchell Sweeney, who died at age 22, with his mother Wendy Sweeney. Mitchell was electrocuted while installing insulation.
Mitchell Sweeney, 22, from Cairns, who was electrocuted while installing roof insulation, pictured with his mother Wendy.

QUEENSLAND Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie says Prime Minister Kevin Rudd must answer questions about his failed foil insulation scheme, following findings by the Coroner.

Earlier today, Queensland Coroner Michael Barnes referred the bosses of tradesmen who were electrocuted while installing home insulation to prosecutors and slammed the government for rushing the scheme.

Rueben Barnes, 16, Matthew James Fuller, 25 and Mitchell Scott Sweeney, 22 were all electrocuted while installing insulation in Queensland roofs after the Home Insulation Program was launched in 2009.

Mr Bleijie has issued a statement saying that Kevin Rudd took ownership of the scheme under his first prime ministership and the responsibility should lie with him.

COMMENT: Coroner’s findings a blow to Rudd

“These tragedies were preventable. In April 2009, Queensland’s Building Services Authority warned the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet about the risks but it never responded,” the statement said.

“These three young men lost their lives because of a chaotic, rushed and underdone Federal Government policy.

Matthew Fuller
MATTHEW Fuller was inexperienced and inadequately trained when he was electrocuted installing insulation under the Rudd government’s pink batts scheme.

“It took Matthew’s death to make it realise there was a problem.

Mr Bleijie said the previous state government all “sat on its hands” on the issue.

“Within months of being elected, the Newman Government directed the Coroner to hold this inquest into Matthew, Rueben and Mitchell’s deaths,” the statement said.

“I thank the Coroner for his findings and I will consider his recommendations.”

He expressed sympathy to the families of the men killed.

Rueben Barnes
TRAGIC: Rueben Barnes, 16, was electrocuted while installing roof insulation in Rockhampton.

EARLIER it was reported, a coroner has found the “dangers should have been foreseen and mitigated” before three young labourers were killed installing foil insulation in the wake of the roll-out of the Federal Government’s controversial home insulation program.

Rueben Barnes, 16, Matthew James Fuller, 25 and Mitchell Scott Sweeney, 22 were all electrocuted while installing insulation in Queensland roofs after the Home Insulation Program was launched in 2009.

State Coroner Michael Barnes on Thursday referred supervisors and employers of the three tradesmen, who were electrocuted while installing home insulation under the axed federal government scheme, to the Director of Public Prosecutions.

They included witness Christopher Jackson on suspicion of perjury after allegedly giving false evidence as a witness during the inquest.

Mr Jackson and Richard Jackson, executive directors of Arrow Property Management and employers of Barnes, were referred to the Attorney General for potential breaches of the Electrical Safety Act.

Mr Fuller’s supervisor Ben McKay was also referred to determine whether he breached workplace health and safety laws by leaving an untrained worker unattended.

Mr Fuller, 25, was electrocuted when he shot a metal staple into a live electrical cable; Cairns man Mitchell Sweeney, 22, died installing roof insulation in February, 2010 – after starting at a new insulation company just a week earlier – and Rockhampton teenager Rueben Barnes, 16, was electrocuted installing fibreglass batts in November, 2009.

Mr Barnes was critical of both state and Commonwealth agencies in relation to the roll-out and policing of the HIP scheme.

He said the speed with which the program was “conceived and implemented” by Kevin Rudd’s federal government of the time was to stimulate the economy during the global financial crisis but shouldn’t have come at the cost of human life.

He said one witness who gave evidence at the inquest told the court a similar program would usually take around two years to be properly implemented.

The HIP was drafted in February, 2009 for implementation on July 1 that same year.

Recommendations by Mr Barnes to come out of the inquest included:

*A public safety awareness campaign to be undertaken by the Office of Fair and Safe Work Queensland giving guidance as to how home occupiers and tradespeople can minimise their exposure to the risk of electrical shock on residential roof spaces.

*The State Government take action on a consultation seeking comment from both industry and the public on mandatory requirements for electrical safety switches to be retro-fitted to all homes when sold or rented. A consultation process recommended requiring Residual Current Devices to be fitted by certain time frames for different categories of premises in March last year, but no action has yet been taken.

*The Office of Fair and Safe Work Queensland undertake a review into the response by state-based workplace safety agencies to the increased risk that might have resulted from the Commonwealth’s primary failings in the planning and implementation of the HIP.

Lawyer Aaron Anderson, for the family of Matthew Fuller, said they were hopeful the Coroner’s findings would prevent similar deaths in the future.

“My clients today are just wanting to make sure there are lessons learned going forward in any future scheme, whether it is at state or federal level,” he said

“It doesn’t have to have the same tragic consequences.”

Lawyer Mark Williams, for the father of Reuben Barnes, Murray Barnes, said he wanted mechanisms put in place to ensure no further deaths occurred.

“There have now been those recommendations made and some of those, we look forward to seeing the implementation of,” he said.

Master Electricians Australia CEO Malcolm Richards said he recommended strongly to the Coroner that safety switches be installed on all circuits, in all homes.

“It’s quite clear to us that despite how quickly the program was rolled out and how bad the safety procedures were, if we had safety switches on all circuits, these three young men would still be alive,” he said.

“We ‘re also pleased that he has actually recommended now the state government go back and reassess their program, with a mind to implementing safety switches on all circuits.”

Coroner criticises Rudd insulation scheme over tradesmen’s deaths

Queensland coroner attacks rush to introduce federal scheme and refers trade employers for possible prosecution

Bridie Jabour | guardian.co.uk, Thursday 4 July 2013 19.19 AEST

Qld coroner Michael Barnes
Queensland coroner Michael Barnes was critical of state and federal governments. Photograph: DAVE HUNT/AAPIMAGE

Some supervisors and employers of young tradesmen killed during installations for the government’s home insulation scheme could face criminal charges for work malpractice and perjury following recommendation by the Queensland coroner.

Queensland coroner Michael Barnes found the commonwealth’s rush in introducing the home insulation program (HIP) was mostly to blame for the deaths of three young men, but has been critical of the state government’s role as well the employers and supervisors.

“Because a major focus of this program was the stimulation of the economy to counter the effects of the global financial crisis it needed to proceed far more quickly than that, but not at the cost of human life,” he said.

The coronial inquest related to the deaths of Matthew Fuller, 25, Rueben Barnes, 16, and Mitchell Sweeney, 22, who were all killed between October 2009 and February 2010 while fitting insulation in Queensland homes as part of a federal government scheme under the Rudd government.

Matthew FullerMatthew Fuller. Photograph: DAVE HUNT/AAPIMAGE

The coroner found all three men were electrocuted while in roofs where power had not been cut off and there were a range of safety issues in each case.

He referred Rueben Barnes’s employers Christopher and Richard Jackson to the Department of Justice and the attorney general to decide whether they should face prosecution for breaching the Electrical Safety Act in the light of his findings they failed to properly train employees, including Rueben Barnes, and to follow work safety guidelines.

Christopher Jackson was also referred to the DPP for possible perjury charges after Coroner Barnes found he may have lied to the court about inspecting the work site on the morning of Rueben Barnes’s death and filling out a work method statement that listed the risks at the site.

Supervisor Ben McKay was found to have left an inexperienced Fuller to work unsupervised and was referred for possible prosecution for breaching the Workplace Health and Safety Act.

The state government was also criticised for not being proactive in managing safety issues when the commonwealth had announced such a large project.

Coroner Barnes said the commonwealth had tried at least twice to start a joint approach to potential safety issues caused by the program with Queensland workplace safety agencies but they did not respond and have failed to respond even after the deaths of three men.

“There was no evidence put before the court that the state government agencies which might have been expected to proactively respond to the heightened risks engendered by the HIP have undertaken similar reviews to ensure they react more effectively if a similar commonwealth project is announced in future,” he said.

Coroner Barnes said he identified numerous incidents of administrative and regulatory failing when it came to the introduction of the program.

He also found there was little awareness about roofs being a “typically dangerous electrical place” among other professionals such as builders, tilers, painters and pest controllers and also among homeowners.

He recommended a public awareness campaign about safety in roofs.

Rudd was in Indonesia but the resources and energy minister, Gary Gray, said the government would carefully consider the recommendations, including a public awareness campaign about the dangers of roof cavities.

The coroner criticised the commonwealth for relying on administrative arrangements, rather than specific legislation, to support the program.

Gray said it was not uncommon to rely on state and territory legislation where the commonwealth may not have constitutional power to legislate to cover an entire industry.

“In this case, the commonwealth had limited powers to legislate for specific industry safety requirements and relied on state safety legislation,” he said.

“Commonwealth legislation would have duplicated state and territory laws and there was no indication that the existing laws were inadequate to ensure worker safety.”

The deputy opposition leader, Julie Bishop, called on him to release all correspondence in relation to the program.

“He should release all of the letters that were sent to his government warning of these risks and then explain why it was they were ignored,” she said.

“This was Kevin Rudd’s scheme. He came up with a number of stimulus programs in response to the global financial crisis. We now know that these schemes were rushed out quickly, we now know that the Queensland coroner that the pink batts scheme in particular didn’t pay attention to the risks that were a danger to human life, that is the responsibility of government.”

The HIP was part of the $42bn stimulus package used by the Rudd government to try to mitigate the effects of the global financial crisis in Australia.

“It’s scandalous, I cannot think of a worse example of a federal government rolling out a service delivery program than one where people actually lost their lives,” Bishop said.

“There was damage done to property, there was loss of life, it has been an utter waste of money.”

Through his lawyer, Mark Williams, Rueben Barnes’s father, Murray Barnes, said he was happy with the coroner’s recommendations, hoping they would prevent a similar tragedy.

“He feels like justice has been done to an extent, but no amount of justice can bring back his son,” Williams said.

“Children should be burying their parents as opposed to the other way around.”

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