Tasmanian Times

Economy

Minister Garrett should be sacked – Lessons for the pulp mill

As we now know, the Rudd governments home insulation program has been an unmitigated disaster resulting in 4 deaths, 120 house fires and the rorting of tens of millions of tax payer dollars.

The entire program has been axed and the cost of revisiting and checking the homes that have already been insulated, could be up to a billion dollars.

Unbelievably the minister responsible Peter Garrett survived and was merely demoted. Minister, Greg Combet was brought in to clean up the mess.

So what happened?

What happens when a government rolls out a $2.5Billion energy efficiency program with no real plan?

What happens when there is hundreds of millions of dollars of contracts available for almost anyone who is willing to have a go?

What happened was a few thousands new businesses appeared out of nowhere and people with little or no experience, training or appreciation for the safety aspects associated with job began insulating half a million homes around Australia.

What happened next? – 120 house fires, massive rorting, fraud and the death of four young men.

Yet we havent seen the end of it. Fire services fear that with the onset of winter, we will see more fires.

A government department insider told last night’s ABC’s Four Corners (FC) programme that warnings were made to senior bureaucrats about the risks of electrocutions and fires.

The insider told FC………. “In fact we were told that safety was of less importance than job creation”. Job creation was the most important thing……..That was mentioned on many occasions, we were told many times by senior management that the technical and safety issues were of less importance than getting this programme up and running and creating jobs……..Without proper audit of the work, without a proper audit of the competence of the installers, there was no way of knowing whether a house had foil insulation or any material installed safely and because the installers were not trained properly, there was no way of checking that installers actually knew what they were doing. There was no way to be sure that they were doing the insulation safely and correctly”.

Yet as FC argued………… “The federal government was determined to roll out the scheme as fast as possible and create new jobs. There were plenty of people who saw business opportunities. One of them was Brisbane entrepreneur, Jude Kirk, who ran a telemarketing company. He registered a company, Country wide Insulations, and through his call centre quickly built a large customer base. He collected almost a million dollars from the scheme in six weeks”.

Four Corners argued that “the crucial question remains, was Peter Garrett told of these, and if so, did he convey to the prime minister that this was the price of rolling out the scheme so fast? The answer could be in four letters that Peter Garrett wrote to the Prime Minister, which Mr Rudd refuses to make public”.

Prime Minister Rudd refuses saying the letters are “cabinet in confidence”.

………………

As I watched tonights program I couldnt help think about our own situation here in the Tamar Valley where a community of 100,000 people face the threat of the worlds 4th largest pulp & chemical mill proposed for a site it was never intended for, without anything like an adequate risk assessment.

The Tasmanian state government’s insistence on ordering a benefits only study on what will be one of the largest heavy industrial projects in the southern hemisphere told Tasmanian’s that the same attitude prevails amongst Tasmanian parliamentarians as in Garrets dept with the home insulation roll out – the potential employment benefits trump technical and safety issues.

Tasmanian’s implicitly understood this appalling government attitude from the moment the Lennon govt allowed Gunns to wriggle out of the proper independent RPDC assessment process and as a consequence they became deeply suspicious and withdrew their support for the project.

Here is what the former Premier Paul Lennon told The Australian’s John Lyons in 2007
http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/features/apple-isles-core-dilemma/story-e6frg6z6-1111114423019
Lennon’s answers in italics…

………And look at the Premier’s answers to two simple questions. “Was a risk analysis done for the project?”

“What do you mean by that?” he responded. “Risk analysis by whom?”

“By the proponents?”

“Well, you need to talk to the proponents about that.”

“But as Premier you’d know.”

“We satisfied ourselves that the project is a good project, that it’s economic,” insisted the Premier.

“What about a cost benefit analysis?”

“What do you mean by that? By us?”

“By the Government, looking at possible benefits of the project.”

“Well, I think the benefits to the Tasmanian community are there for everyone to see.”

“What about the costs, though?”

“Well, the costs in terms of what?”

“In terms of, perhaps, the impact on tourism.”

“Well, I don’t agree with that.”
…………
As economics professor Graeme Wells argued in his recent paper Economic Assessment of the Gunns Pulp Mill 2004-2008

………..”For the Lennon government it was self-evident that the large investment associated with the mill would benefit Tasmanians. In 2004, well before any formal assessment process had begun, Economic Development Minister Lara Giddings said that ….
………..‘There are clear benefits for Tasmania in developing a pulp mill. The benefits can be measured in terms of jobs and economic growth through the downstream processing of our timber resource and we are determined to do all we can to see a modern pulp mill facility using world’s best practice in Tasmania”

The government was true to its word. Significant funds from Commonwealth and State governments were spent to facilitate development of the mill proposal and to persuade Tasmanians of its merits. The Tasmanian government lobbied for continuation of tax concessions under managed investment schemes so as to ensure the financial viability of the mill and, after the mill permit was legislated by the Tasmanian parliament, for Commonwealth infrastructure funding for transportation of pulpwood around the state.

The effect of withdrawing the mill from the RPDC assessment process was that these and other expenditures or tax concessions, together with possible externality costs, were never quantified by either the proponents or reviewers of the IIS. This made it inevitable that the assessment process would find ‘clear economic and social benefits’ from building the mill”. (Graeme Wells http://oldtt.pixelkey.biz/images/uploads/Discussion_paper_2010-01.pdf)
……

Tasmanian’s know that “the technical, safety and other risk related issues related to the Gunns Pulp Mill were of less importance to the Lennon and Bartlett Governement than getting the Gunns pulp mill up and running and creating jobs. We know that because an independent cost/benefitts analysis of the proposed mill has never been undertaken and other technical, safety and risk related issues have not been thoroughly assessed because the project was pulled from the proper independent assessment process.

Now in view of the issues that have come to light about Minister Garrett and his department’s appalling attitude and its disasterous handling of its $2.5Billion energy efficiency program, serious questions must be asked of Minister Garrett’s federal pulp mill approvals process.

The most obvious question being – Mr Garrett have you and your department taken the same attitude as you took to the insulation roll out ; – That the technical and safety issues were of less importance than getting the Gunns Tamar Valley pulp mill up and running and creating jobs?

Rick Pilkington was writing on his blog, HERE

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12 Comments

12 Comments

  1. Stephan

    April 28, 2010 at 12:09 pm

    Steve (Post #1) Mate, I understand, but, the problem here is that the Government shouldnot be our parent. It should not be our confessor and it should not take the blame for thehuman failings that we ourselves are responsible for. Yes, it shouldeducate us, police us and if necessary, punish us but I find it wayscary to consider the Government everybody seems to want down the road. The Government is the popularly elected arm of a public serviceorganisation that has been created to manage human and community affairson a macro scale, right? Or am I so out of touch that we get conceived,taught, told how to live and then die at the behest of the Government?I know that’s the way it’s going and it’s our own damn fault because wekeep demanding the Government is responsible. But do you REALLY thinkit should be???? So, my questions in post #1 stand. I realise Minister Garrett holdssome responsibility. It is at a distance but his position of responsibility means the scaleof fault has been magnified by the public eye. Some of those contractorsundoubtably qualify for a solid investigation based around thepossibility of murder charges. I trust and hope this is happening.Minister Garret has now resigned. On with the show as more CCTV camerasget put in Hobart to look after people while violent youths roam thestreets. Sheesh.

  2. 6clegs

    April 27, 2010 at 2:30 pm

    “is there infact a deeper dynamic or set of relationships that the public do not know about?”

    Have often wondered that myself. Am not normally into conspiracy theories – also I do find it hard to think that “they’re” smart enough to keep something like ‘that’ hidden for as long as this???

  3. Russell

    April 27, 2010 at 1:56 pm

    Re #9
    I agree totally pilko.

    What is in these four letters?

    Why do our politicians hide so many things from us under the false guise of confidentiality?

    Industrial grade shredders must be one of the hottest selling items in Australia.

    I believe the whole Party system in Australia is deeply corrupt from Local right through to Federal Governments.

    The two major parties have stacked the Local Councils, so evident in Tasmania, with those who have industry affiliations and aspirations.

    It must be beyond doubt now that KRudd is as much a climate change sceptic as John Howard. He has shelved and stood in the way of every single reform to our polluting carbon emitting industries. And he purposely put us into billions of dollars debt so that nothing could be done about it. Copenhagen was the single most disastrous embarrassment KRudd prevailed over, evidenced by his complete disappearance from public for months afterwards.

    It’s time to get rid of the lobbyist systems running and ruining Australia, led by people like Heather Ridout (CEO of the Australia Industry Group) and Mitch Hooke (CEO of the Minerals Council of Australia), and groups like the CFMEU.

  4. pilko

    April 27, 2010 at 3:37 am

    Tasmanian Labor & Liberal politicians scoff at the suggestion that they put Gunns interests ahead of concerns about the economic, public & environmental health risks associated with the proposed Tamar Valley pulp mill.
    Many Tasmanians continue to ask why it is that the Labor & Liberal parties seem so beholden, so indebted to this company?
    Tasmanians remain shocked and offended at the unwillingness by Labor & Liberal parliamentarians to be seen to criticise Gunns. The servile & even sacrificial posturing by our Premier’s & the unwavering commitment shown to Gunns and its pulp mill. Tasmanians suspect that there may exist other “hidden dynamics” informing Liberal & Labor’s curious loyalty aside from genuine concerns over jobs & even selfish political concerns about timber community votes.
    Is there infact a deeper dynamic or set of relationships that the public do not know about?

  5. Steve

    April 27, 2010 at 12:16 am

    1; It doesn’t quite work that way. Human nature, especially the greed bit, is something that is reasonably predictable and is a factor that any Government has to take into account.
    Consider if there was an official announcement tomorrow, stating that enforcement of trafic laws was uneconomic and from now on there would be no police involvement with the roads. Would you be saying that the government wasn’t responsible for all the ensuing deaths. “But they knew they shouldn’t drive after 23 beers..”

  6. Dave Groves

    April 26, 2010 at 9:26 pm

    Love the Lennon quotes Rick.

    Its like a 747 taking off, on full throttle, past the point of no return, Lennon says to the co-pilot (monkey), how does this thing go up??

    The pulp mill….a work of fiction, that cost taxpayers….how much????

    The show rolls on…….

  7. Mark

    April 26, 2010 at 7:21 pm

    I completely agree with #1.

    The insulation program was just as much about giving construction workers employment rather than the dole once the bottom fell out of the industry. What it highlighted was the number of unskilled labourers and charlatans out there ready to turn a dollar or even attempt fraud. It also highlighted a deregulated industry where very few are employees. Most are “independent contractors” responsible for their own insurance, superannuation, tax, holidays etc. The principal contractors hire labourers on piece-rates and shuffle all liability to the contractor.

    When a Centrelink fraud occurs, is it the responsibility of the Minister? When someone doesn’t pay their tax, the Treasurer? When it’s a shoddy tradesman?

    Abbott threw out a line and, supported by News Ltd and shock jocks, the public bit. Unfortunately, this also included the ABC (I thought the journos were smarter there or, at least, more independent! Sorry Linz…)

    I have my own theories as to the pressure exerted by News and they have more to do with the Henry Review of Taxation and the BCA than pink batts.

  8. 6clegs

    April 26, 2010 at 7:04 pm

    Ah yes, “jobs”.
    We must have “jobs”!

    Don’t worry that those “jobs” may kill you or your children, poison the air you breath and the food you eat – BUT WE MUST HAVE “JOBS”! (i.e; make some wealthy so & so even wealthier)

    Garrett has proved to be a major disappointment, and IMHO thank Buddha he didn’t join the Greens!!!

    That people might be able to gain an education, making working at menial jobs in an outdated & toxic pulp mill is what these pollies with such low standards would prefer. And that they’re so many Tasmanians who would prefer to remain uneducated and offer themselves up to work in such an environment still leaves me shaking my head on a daily basis… (FWIW; am from a ‘poor & uneducated’ background myself – & no one could ever accuse me of being “wealthy”!)

    If this toxic mill does eventually get built it will be the death of Tourism in the Launceston/TV area, and ordinary Tasmanians will have no one else to blame but themselves for the ruin and joke the North will become. (it’s not like it’s been sprung on them with no warning of its toxicity)

    (If i ever won a 20million tatts ‘prize’ i’d spend 19 million of it tying southern star up in court with some sort of ‘legal issue’…)

    IMO gay/gray will go to their graves trying to build ‘their mill’. And there will be plenty other Tasmanians only too happy to make martyrs of them.
    The whole “forestry/woodchip/greenie war” has become a bizarre culture in this state – it’s almost like people *enjoy* having to choose sides!.

    That john gay/state governments have allowed and fostered this culture shows that “Tasmania” has more in common with Zimbabwe’s regime than it realises…

    and thankyou TT for allowing me this vent. 😉

  9. Russell

    April 26, 2010 at 5:12 pm

    Well Mr. Lennon and Ms Giddings, since the pulp mill fiasco started there have been nothing but Tasmanian job losses, hundreds if not thousands of them. That makes NO economic sense.

    Gunns, FT and the Labor and Liberal parties are nothing but part of a tumour which is slowly but surely killing Tasmania.

    Regarding another (of many) fiasco Garrett and KRudd’s, the insulation death-trap/rort, it seemed just about everyone in Australia knew how it was going to turn out.

    Having worked many years in ceilings myself (especially in northern Australia), I just couldn’t believe they were actually putting a conductive material like the aluminium ‘insulation’ directly on top of ceilings and wires.

    Almost daily doing my job I saw electrical wires clip-fastened along the ceiling beams chewed bare by rats and possums. It was a constant threat even then, without this scheme/scam making the whole ceiling live.

    KRudd and Labor had 12 years in opposition to get their act together, to have everything in place for a smooth first term. But with the election result came the biggest free-for-all spend-up that Australia has ever witnessed, sending us broke for decades to come.

    It was inevitable that the whole thing would be a grab for cash.

    Today, even the school funding scheme/scam is starting to unravel with cheap nasty workmanship collapsing under the very feet of our kids.

    Not only did most of the stimulus package go offshore (via ‘Australians’ like Harvey Norman) to prop up China’s economy instead of ours, but we may as well have stamped the local spending ‘made in China’ as well for the deplorable lack of quality seen everywhere in return for the billions of dollars squandered.

    The same governmental ineptitude is everywhere in Australia as a direct result of the pathetic electoral system we have found ourselves trapped in, ie: two major parties just trying to exist while doing as near to nothing as possible for the future.

    The Party system must go.

  10. peter mack

    April 26, 2010 at 5:01 pm

    Re comments #1 Stephan. Sadly the whole approach to this program from the start means it was set to fail, and that includes safety.It differs little from the tragic safety approaches of the “Dark satanic mills” and the “Railway Age” of the 1830s.
    Jumping forward a century and a half, the Coroner said the Westgate Bridge disaster was a case were everyone knew there was a serious problem, but all avoided doing anything.
    Where safety of people’s lives are involved, we need a safety system approach and that includes chain of responsibility. Working out risks in advance and implementing systematic preventions is what saves lives.

  11. mike seabrook

    April 26, 2010 at 3:24 pm

    re these fire trap houses

    are the insurance companies paying up and are they refusing future insurance on standard terms.

    with claims , are the insurance companies copping it or looking to sue all involved in the debacle.

    are the insurance companies following up with the state coppers or the federal coppers.

    will all householders be paying higher insurance premiums as a result of this garrett/combet/ rudd debacle

  12. Stephan

    April 26, 2010 at 2:22 pm

    I’m rather naive about a number of things and I like to believe that people want to do the right thing. I haven’t read all this article but my observation/question deals with the whole episode itself.

    It was Minister Garret’s responsibility to oversee the program. It was the employer’s responsibility to look after the welfare of their staff. It is the responsibility of any business to provide creditable, safe and responsive service for the money it is paid.

    If the business owners did not train their staff properly in the installation of insualtion how then is this the Minister’s responsibility? It is the business owners who are actually at fault – all else is political posturing because Minister Garret gave the program a tick and agreed to a tight deadline. Why aren’t (or are they) the owners of the businesses subject of these tragic circumstances being investigated by Workplace Health and Safety?

    If this is happening why are we continuing to badger a Minister rather than berating the questionable human nature of the people who managed the installation of the insulation?

    Why (as with the BER scheme), in situations where people actually set out to defraud or cut corners, is it the Minister’s responsibility? Why aren’t we witch-hunting everybody involved?

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