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Findings against public servants in royal commission ‘regrettable’

The public service commissioner says it’s “regrettable” findings were made against senior public servants in the royal commission into home insulation. And the federal department responsible for the management of the botched pink batts program is examining the recommendations, including whether senior public servants should face action.

Ian Hanger’s final report into Labor’s “poorly planned and poorly implemented” economic stimulus program is damning of both the directions from government and the work of departments “ill-equipped” to manage the scheme, which resulted in the deaths of four insulation installers.

The report is critical of a number of senior bureaucrats in the Department of Environment. Hanger found Kevin Keefe, who ran the program, and Beth Brunoro, a former director in the Home Energy Branch, were advised of the serious risk posed by installing reflective foil in homes but “did nothing to further investigate it”. “They should have done so,” the report states.

David Hoitink was also criticised for concluding the federal government could leave health and safety regulation to the states and territories.

Of Brunoro and Environment assistant secretary Mary Wiley-Smith, Hanger said they had:

“… little time properly to consider a proposal of this magnitude focused, for the first time, solely upon insulation. They worked hard to meet the tight deadline. Necessarily, their assessment of the risks attending the proposal in particular, could not have been fulsome.”

Hanger notes that under the Public Service Act an employee must “act with care and diligence in connection with his/her employment”. “It is apparent that this did not always happen,” he stated:

“It is not for me to recommend that proceedings be taken against any person. That is a matter for an Agency Head or the Prime Minister and, ultimately, the Public Service Commissioner appointed under the Act to determine in accordance with principles set out in the Public Service Act.

“I recommend that relevant Agency Head/s or the Prime Minister consider whether the findings in this report justify a request that the Public Service Commissioner inquire and determine any appropriate action under the Public Service Act.”

A spokesperson for the Department of Environment told The Mandarin it is “carefully considering the findings and recommendations of the report”. The Australian Public Service Commission said in a statement:

“The report of the royal commission is a detailed document that raises serious issues. It is regrettable that the royal commissioner has found that some management practices have contributed to the failure of the home insulation program.”

The government says a preliminary response to the royal commission report will be delivered by the end of the month, with a final response handed down by the end of the year.

More at The Mandarin: Pink batts scheme ‘poorly planned, implemented’: commission

Author Bio

Jason Whittaker

Jason Whittaker is managing editor of The Mandarin based in Melbourne. He has written for and edited political, business and culture publications for a decade. He spent two years as editor of sister Private Media publication Crikey.