14 May 2014

Minister not told of NZ deaths

9:13 pm on 14 May 2014

The former Australian environment minister Peter Garrett has told a royal commission hearing on a state-subsidised home insulation programme that he felt "gutted" when an installer was electrocuted in 2009.

Peter Garrett at the start of the insulation scheme.

Peter Garrett at the start of the insulation scheme. Photo: AAP

Mr Garrett was appearing ahead of former prime minister Kevin Rudd at the inquiry in Brisbane, which is looking at how decisions were made and how warnings were handled before the worksite deaths of four installers in 2009 and 2010.

Three of the four men who died while working on the program were electrocuted, the ABC reported.

Yesterday, Mr Garrett said he was not informed of the risk to home insulation workers before a Queensland man died on the job during the program, promoted as an economic stimulus, in 2009.

Mr Garrett said he only "very recently" learned of details about a New Zealand safety warning the Rudd Government received ahead of the national insulation roll-out.

In 2009, a New Zealand industry representative Peter Ruz warned bureaucrats planning the scheme that three men were electrocuted during a similar promotion which began in New Zealand in 2007 - the men stapled through foil insulation into electrical wires, turning all the foil "live".

Mr Garrett said public servants had not mentioned the dangers before the electrocution of Mr Fuller near Brisbane in October 2009.

Mr Garrett told the inquiry that after installer Matthew Fuller's death, safety was an "absolute priority" for the home insulation program.

"I think it's obvious that if you get a death in a program, it focuses everybody's mind," he said.

"I mean, I was gutted when that happened."

But Mr Garrett again stressed problems with the safety advice that his department gave him.

"I clearly wasn't satisfied with it," he said.

"How could I be? Some of the advice was deficient."

He said he increasingly "interrogated" the briefs he received and sought advice from external stakeholders.