Action could be taken against public servants responsible for the deadly pink batts scheme, but the federal ministers who oversaw it, including former prime minister Kevin Rudd, will avoid punishment.
The royal commission into the scheme found four young men would not have been killed if the Rudd government hadn’t rushed out its $2.8 billion home insulation program in a desperate scramble to boost the economy.
Commission head Ian Hanger, QC, found the deaths of Matthew Fuller, Rueben Barnes, Marcus Wilson, and Mitchell Sweeney, all killed while installing insulation under the program, were avoidable.
Mr Hanger found the ambitious scheme sacrificed planning for speed and unnecessarily exposed workers to an unacceptably high risk of injury or death.
“The Australian government conceived of, devised, designed and implemented a program that enabled very large numbers of inexperienced workers, often engaged by unscrupulous and avaricious employers … to undertake potentially dangerous work,” he found.
“It should have done more to protect them.
“In my view each death would, and should, not have occurred had the HIP (home insulation program) been properly designed and implemented.”
Prime Minister Tony Abbott told parliament on Monday the report detailed a “litany of failures” arising from the Rudd government’s “dysfunctional culture”.
But, rather than recommending any action against the government ministers involved, Mr Hanger recommended the public service commissioner consider action against the senior bureaucrats concerned.
Mr Hanger said by law public service employees must act with “care and diligence”, but it was apparent this did not always happen.
“I recommend that relevant agency head/s or the prime minister consider whether the findings in this report justify a request that the public service commissioner inquire and determine any appropriate action,” he wrote in his report.
Mr Hanger did not recommend action against ministers who oversaw the program, including former prime minister Mr Rudd who announced the scheme in 2009 to stimulate the economy.
However, he noted the terms of reference asked him to examine the actions of the Australian government, not particular individuals.
Former Labor senator Mark Arbib, whose evidence to the commission was described as “guarded and defensive”, came under fire for being focused on potential rorting of the scheme ahead of safety risks.
But Mr Hanger found neither he nor former environment minister Peter Garrett were warned of the risks to installers before the first death in October 2009.
Senior environment department bureaucrats Kevin Keeffe and Beth Brunoro were criticised for not investigating risks posed by foil insulation while their colleague David Hoitink was blamed for wrongly concluding the federal government could leave health and safety regulation to the states and territories.
A lawyer representing Rueben Barnes’ family likened public servants rolling out the program to the crew of the Titanic.
“Too frightened, in essence, to call out ‘iceberg ahead.’ The reason for that is that they were told ‘get this done and get it done quickly’,” Bill Potts told reporters.
Aaron Anderson, the lawyer for Matthew Fuller’s parents, said the couple would work closely with the government to ensure the recommendations are addressed.
Other recommendations include a ban on reflective foil laminates in retrofitting ceiling insulation and a new minimum standard of qualification for all workers in roof cavities.
The government is considering the findings and will response by the end of the month.