Inspired by a presentation entitled “Lessons for Government from the Home Insulation Royal Commission,” by Dr Ashely Tsacalos at the NSW Law Society 2015 Government Solicitors Conference I was moved to read the full report.

The Australian Government’s Royal Commission Report into the Home Insulation Program runs to over 350 pages. This very short note seeks to summarise, by way of highlight, the main lessons points I see as relevant to be learnt as a consequence of the issues and problems identified by the Royal Commission.

The Report comprises a fine tooth comb sifting through the facts and circumstances leading from the conception of the Home Insulation Program (HIP) concept, its implementation, operation and the more than unfortunate deaths and home fires, found to have been caused and/or contributed to by aspects of the operation of the HIP.

HIP had its origins as a laudable program to stimulate economic activity after the Global Financial Crisis.

At its simplest, it involved Government funding installation of Home Installation into 2.2 million homes in a period of 21/2 years. That involved something like 15 times in the size of the relevant industry’s (as compared to prior HIP commencement) history of installations. The industry went from 200 installers to 8359 registered insulation businesses with a workforce of over 12,000 by October 2009

Unfortunately, due to very short time constraints relating to the implementation of HIP, a disinclination of various public servants adequately to go to print expressing reservations as to the proposed timeframe, a lack of understanding appreciation of and/or existence of a relevant regulatory process for the relevant installations, some inconsistencies in attitude and lack of communication between State and Federal authorities, some installation companies operating with less than best practice attitudes, HIP led to 4 deaths of installers and up to 200 house fires.

Unfortunately, I have seen not dissimilar issues in some other projects, large and small, over the years, though thankfully without no deaths. The Royal Commission Report is an edifying exercise and what can go wrong and how, with hindsight, problems can be avoided.

It should be considered by all involved in implementation of major projects from both public and private sectors.

Having observed many broad government programs have many years, I have seen how and where many a good concept plan can go awry.

HIP is a classic example of the maximum I was brought up with as a young lawyer “when something gets off the rails, it stays off the rails”. It has a lot to teach us all, both public and private sectors.

Causes of the Problems

Multiple causes were, in my understanding of the Report, identified as primarily contributing to the debacle.

They included;-

1. A very tight timeframe between announcement of the proposal and its commencement in circumstances in which relevant public servants felt constrained to stick to the Government’s announced commencement date, perceived as inflexible notwithstanding significant reservations by many as to whether the project could rationally be commenced by that date;
2. something of an imprecise line of responsibility as between the bureaucracy and members of the actual Government as is to implementation responsibility;
3. a failure by those implementing HIP to recognize the inadequacy of the regulatory regime relating to home installations which is linked to inadequate training of installers, particularly as to the workplace health and safety issues to do with home insulation and working in roof spaces with live electricity wires, particularly use of nail guns where the insulation being installed was foil sheeting;
4. that workplace health and safety laws were relevantly the subject of State legislation, not Commonwealth legislation, and a number of Commonwealth public servants were of the view that they could not therefore control workplace health and safety standards;
5. the destruction of the pre-existing home insulation industry;
6. the sacrifice of proper planning for speeding implementation;
7. the implementation of HIP by a policy agency, not adequately equipped to deal with a project of that size and complexity;
8. a failure of the Australian Government to identify and manage the risk of death and injury to installers;
9. reliance on ”patently inadequate advice and assistance by external advisors on risk and project management“;
10. allowing “supervision” rather than proper training of installers;
11. lack of a robust audit and compliance regime; and
12. an expectation by the Australian Government that the State and Territory Governments would relevantly regulate monitor and police workplace health and safety standards, though the Australian Government did not properly advise the States and Territories of the expectations of the Australian Government.

For the Future

From my point of view 4 the main lessons points to bear in mind learned are comprise: –

A. rushing to implement a major project without proper or adequate consideration of the risk issues and management issues leads to problems;
B. too great a reluctance of people to take a stand and express their reservations in writing contributes to problems;
B.C. failing to identify, measure and properly manage risk is a sure fire was to a disaster;
C.D. inadequate liaison between the Australian Government and the Governments of the States and Territories as to the detailed implementation and safety issues relating to implementation of projects can create gaps in responsibility which cause issues.

The full Royal commission report is available at:-
http://www.homeinsulationroyalcommission.gov.au/Documentation/Documents/ReportoftheRoyalCommissionintotheHomeInsulationProgram.pdf