Former prime minister Kevin Rudd’s expectations weighed on public servants as they rushed to roll out the home insulation program, an inquiry has heard.
Senior environment department staffer Avril Kent has told a royal commission how Mr Rudd’s office influenced a decision to dump training for insulation installers before the scheme’s July 1, 2009 rollout.
Low-skilled workers ended up flooding the program, which has been blamed for the deaths of four workers and more than 100 house fires.
Initially the plan was to train all installers, but bureaucrats decided to restrict training to supervisors at a May 2009 meeting.
When training was discussed, Ms Kent said a staffer from Mr Rudd’s department made it clear the program was about stimulating the economy and they should be careful not to put too many barriers in its path.
“So when someone from prime minister and cabinet tells me this is the policy priority, I suppose myself and others had the impression that that was what the prime minister expected us to do,” she said.
Ms Kent also told the inquiry how the “rushed” program placed unrealistic expectations on public servants who, at one point, worked 24/7 to roll it out.
She became tearful as she recalled the intense media scrutiny the department faced in the lead-up to the scheme’s termination on February 19, 2010.
“Then we heard it on the radio and we couldn’t help feeling it was our fault in some way and that was awful,” she told the inquiry.
Ms Kent said her department became aware of problems with the program shortly after its rollout.
It emerged that insulation operators were flouting rules requiring them to supervise installers entering ceilings, she said.
When asked why more wasn’t done to ensure installers were being supervised, Ms Kent said the department was dealing with “a number of crises” at the time and she could only do so much on a given day.
Ms Kent said the program was unprecedented and the government should have tested it before rolling it out into people’s homes.
“The rush made it very difficult and it was because of the rush we didn’t do a pilot (program),” she said.
The inquiry continues.