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Eric Abetz to decide if bureaucrats breached code on pink batts

The federal government will examine whether Commonwealth bureaucrats breached their code of conduct in handling the botched home insulation program, the Prime Minister has announced.

In his response to the royal commission into Labor’s pink batts stimulus project, which resulted in the deaths of four installers, Tony Abbott said Eric Abetz, the minister responsible for the public sector, will “consider an appropriate way to assess the report’s findings about public servants against the Australian Public Service’s code of conduct”.

A spokesperson for Abetz told The Mandarin this morning his office will “provide advice on options to progress this matter and we will have more to say about this in due course”.

Abbott told Parliament yesterday the action is “not a witch hunt”, but:

“… we do need to recognise that the home insulation programme was a tragic failure; a failure of bureaucracy and a workplace failure as well as a political failure and all of us should learn from this failure …

“Just like the royal commission itself, this interim response is designed to work out what happened, what could have been done better and what is necessary to prevent it from happening again. All of us should work to ensure that wiser decisions and better government become the ultimate legacy of this tragic program.”

Ian Hanger’s final report into Labor’s “poorly planned and poorly implemented” economic stimulus program was damning of both the directions from government and the work of departments “ill-equipped” to manage the scheme.

The report was 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.

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.”

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

Hanger noted 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:

“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.”

The Mandarin has sought comment from the Australian Public Service Commission, which has previously described the findings against senior leaders as “regrettable”.

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.