Image for 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”.

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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.”
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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://tasmaniantimes.com/images/uploads/Discussion_paper_2010-01.pdf)
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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