Mr HUSIC (Chifley) (13:05): While I have regard for the member for Bradfield and while I seek to provide detail that would demonstrate that regard through the course of this speech, I do take exception to some of the references that he made in his contribution today—namely, claiming that we have been dismissive in relation to this issue when the detail in this speech will clearly demonstrate otherwise. I have to confess to having a sense of deja vu as I stand here before you today to speak against the opposition’s latest motion on the Home Insulation Program, because it seems that not very long ago I was before the House arguing against a similarly inane and vexatious motion. It was only when I checked Hansard this morning that I realised it was on 23 May this year that I delivered that speech—only six weeks ago. Even by their standards, this latest attempt by the coalition to score cheap political points out of the program is both bizarre and outrageous.
The House may wish to reflect that on 23 May we debated a bill proposed by the member for Flinders to initiate a commission of inquiry into the Home Insulation Program. This was despite the fact that the government had supported a number of independent inquiries into the program itself and accepted their findings. The bill was put to the vote on 2 June and was not supported by the House. This should have been the end of the matter. The House had repudiated a petty, cheap and political point-scoring exercise, and the government should have been left alone once and for all to manage the difficult processes involved in the closure of the program. But now, six weeks later, we are here again once more debating issues that House has already considered. But why should we be surprised? The coalition has excellent form in hijacking the good work being done in closing down the program by trying to distract the government with vexatious motions and bills.
As I mentioned in my last speech, in November last year the opposition tried to derail the government’s safety inspection programs by forcing us to prematurely release information on safety inspection results—again, a petty performance by the opposition, particularly when the Minister for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency, Greg Combet, had offered the member for Flinders a private briefing on the inspection results. That motion, like the bill on 2 June this year, was defeated in the House.
So what is the opposition’s latest revelation about the Home Insulation Program? This time they claim they have broken a major story by revealing that fraud was committed under the program. As we have said a number of times, there were significant issues in the design and implementation phases of the Home Insulation Program—we have never denied the fact, particularly when it comes to fraud. The government has long accepted that unscrupulous operators defrauded the program. This particularly involved what has been termed ‘phantom installations’, in which fraud could have been committed by registered installers claiming payment for installations not actually undertaken. The government has also been concerned that some operators have not fulfilled their obligations under the terms and conditions of the program in completing a proper and compliant installation.
These are issues that have appalled the government, and we take the need to investigate them very seriously, but we do not need a frivolous motion from the opposition to remind us of that. In his speech in March last year, Minister Combet said that one of his five key objectives in winding down the Home Insulation Program was to identify and put in place processes to deal with issues of noncompliance and fraud. He also said he would rigorously pursue those individuals and companies engaged in this behaviour. That is why he moved quickly to request an Auditor-General’s investigation into the program in early March last year. Minister Combet also supported the engagement of a forensic auditor to investigate how fraud was perpetrated under the program. KPMG’s forensic accounting was crucial in identifying how fraud was committed under the program, and this involved careful and painstaking analysis over a number of months. Concurrently, a fraud categorisation model was developed to ensure that all cases of fraud were investigated and dealt with properly. As a result of all this had and crucial work, a number of activities were undertaken on 2 March this year aimed at targeting those who had already allegedly committed serious fraud under the program. This involved a joint operation between the Australian Federal Police and the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency in which 35 search warrants were executed across three states. Also, the department launched a comprehensive debt recovery program aimed at recovering all the debt owed from fraudulent and non-compliant activities.
What I have just described is a focused and intensive process undertaken by a range of organisations to tackle fraud under the program. I am not sure how the opposition thinks that it can contribute in assisting these organisations in such complex work by moving this motion and by the other stunts they have moved. What is to be gained in the pursuit of these unscrupulous operators by the House passing this motion? Is the opposition suggesting for one minute that, despite the processes I have just outlined, we are not taking the issue seriously?
I would like to make some key points about how fraud and noncompliance under the program is dealt with by the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency. First, I would reassure all members of the House that all complaints received by the department are taken seriously. When allegations of fraud or serious noncompliance are received, an initial review is conducted to consider the specific allegation and the track record of the insulation business concerned, to assess the matter fully and determine the most appropriate course of action. Depending on the result of that review, the most appropriate course of action may include compliance action or referring it to a law enforcement agency for investigating alleged fraud against the Commonwealth. It is not the policy of the department, and I imagine not that of too many people who investigate fraud of this nature, to provide feedback or process midstream to complainants on the status of matters undergoing compliance or investigation, because, frankly, inappropriate release of that information would jeopardise a successful potential prosecution. Similarly, media and public inquiries in regard to investigations have not been responded to in detail because, again, inappropriate release would prejudice future action.
We have maintained a consistent line throughout this process over the last 16 months, not because we are trying to hide something but because we are trying to ensure that nothing compromises the hard work being done to track down those who have committed fraud or noncompliance. But the opposition want us to continually jeopardise the effort by demanding that we release specific information about fraud, which we are simply not in a position to do in some cases because it would be counterproductive.
And what is the motivation for it? Is it contributing effectively to the process? No. All it wants to do is grandstand and breathe some sort of life into the corpse of a political stunt whose spirit has well and truly left the building. They have no regard for the impact that this has on the hard work many people have undertaken over the last year to bring these unscrupulous operators to account.
The motion also calls for the government to immediately authorise an additional 50,000 random home inspections from within allocated funds. The major statement we released on 20 April on safety inspections provided a strategy for closing down the programs, so what is the point of going through additional investigations?
I reiterate some of the points of the strategy that I made in my speech on 23 May. Safety has always been the main priority of the government in remediating the Home Insulation Program. Accordingly, we have established comprehensive safety inspection plans for both foil and non-foil installed under the program. In the Foil Insulation Safety Program all those householders were offered safety inspections, with the option of having the insulation removed, or, on the advice of a licensed electrician, safety switches would be installed. Under the Home Insulation Safety Program the government committed to inspect a minimum of 150,000 households insulated with non-foil insulation. Those were targeted based on risk assessment. On top of that, based on independent analysis from the CSIRO and from Booz and Company, the government will conclude both the HISP and FISP on completion of the committed inspections, which means the government will continue to undertake targeted inspections until a minimum of 150,000 is reached.
The government will also finalise all inspections under FISP, noting that there are still a number of households with foil that have either refused an inspection or have not been contactable, despite repeated efforts. To provide an extra level of reassurance to those households the government will continue to offer inspections to households that want them, until June next year. The government has committed to providing an independent analysis of the program and will release details of the inspection results. We publicly released this information on 20 April. So, clearly, we have gone to great lengths to try to be transparent on the matter and demonstrate steps being taken to remedy the situation. Once again, the opposition is demanding we throw this advice out and that we commit to further inspections simply for cheap political point scoring, wasting the parliament’s time and scaring the public. It is about time those opposite dropped the stance and let us get on with our work.