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The Best Laid Plans: Australia’s Home Insulation Program (A) 2017-190.1

9 October 2017



On a Friday afternoon in late-January 2009, two officers from Australia’s Department of Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts (DEWHA) are set a very urgent task: to devise and cost a proposal to install ceiling insulation in homes across Australia, at little-to-no out of pocket cost to owners. They have just over 48 hours. The Federal Government is frantically scouting for large-scale programs to boost employment and buffer the economy from the Global Financial Crisis.

This three-part case allows for an in-depth exploration of numerous topics and concepts, mainly from the perspective of an embattled Department well out of its depth. Policy development, risk management, outsourcing expertise, implementation, compliance, leadership, centralisation and crisis management are just some of the issues ripe for discussion. The Best Laid Plans also seeks to look behind the headlines and strip back assumptions to allow a fresh take on one of the most analysed and criticised government programs in Australian administrative history.

Part A recounts the early days of the Home Insulation Program (HIP) including the economic and political context. It follows the story from the policy’s proposal to its rapid implementation (Phase 1), all while DEWHA are still trying to work out some very significant details. Complicating matters is the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet (PM&C) which has rejected DEWHA’s preferred delivery model in favour of its own. A new DEWHA Secretary is caught between an under-resourced department with little program experience and a powerful central department insisting on speed and maximum participation with minimal regulation.

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  • Part B begins with a frustrated and daunted DEWHA scrapping its regional brokerage model in favour of PM&C’s direct access model. This is to encourage as many new and small businesses to participate as possible. Although from 1 July 2009 (Phase 2), all installation companies will have to be registered with DEWHA and meet several rudimentary requirements in order to receive the $1600 rebate. However, under pressure from PM&C to be ready for July, DEWHA drops mandatory training courses for new entrants. Meanwhile during industry consultations, some members raise safety and efficiency concerns about foil insulation which are largely dismissed. As the July deadline approaches, the HIP still lacks adequate training materials and an effective audit and compliance regime. Once Phase 2 is underway, it becomes clear that demand by far exceeds anything the Department anticipated. Problems with fraud, product shortages, poor installations and fire safety become unavoidably apparent. Then in October 2009, a young man is fatally electrocuted while installing foil insulation. He had been in the job less than a fortnight.
  • The Epilogue opens on three more deaths of novice installers, two of them involving electricity. DEWHA is in crisis as staff attempt to investigate and prevent further deaths and injuries. Local authorities later reveal substantial shortcomings in the training, supervision and/or OH&S practices of each employer. DEWHA’s assumption that the States would monitor workplace safety proves dangerously misguided. Environment Minister Peter Garrett is alarmed to learn that his Department ignored, discounted or overlooked major program risks and that a key safeguard (mandatory training) was removed without his knowledge. After several policy modifications, it becomes clear by early 2010 that the HIP cannot continue. So begins a large scale rectification program and a lengthy series of inquests and inquiries, the largest being the 2014 HIP Royal Commission. The Report identifies numerous failings of ministers, central agencies, DEWHA managers, consultants and advisors and concludes that the HIP was fundamentally flawed from the outset. It also suggests ways to avoid similar catastrophes in the future.
Authors: Marinella Padula
Published Date: 9 October 2017
Author Institution: ANZSOG
Content Length: 19
Product Type: Part A, Primary resources