Labor Senator grilled over deadly home insulation scheme

Rueben Barnes was among those killed while working on the home insulation program.
Rueben Barnes was among those killed while working on the home insulation program. Supplied

FORMER Labor Senator Mark Arbib has been grilled over his role in the former Rudd government's botched home insulation scheme which claimed four lives and resulted in hundreds of house fires across the nation.

Mr Arbib was the first former government minister to give evidence at the Royal Commission which is being held in Brisbane.

He told the commission on Monday his communication with then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd surrounding the $2.8 billion program was generally on an "ad-hoc" basis and was virtually non-existent after the scheme was rolled out on July, 1, 2009.

"Occasionally the Prime Minister would call me to see how things were going," he said.

"It was generally a verbal report over the phone and was generally brief as the Prime Minister was very busy.

"It was very irregular though."

The commission has been tasked to investigate a range of issues including the process by which the Australian Government made decisions about the establishment and implementation of the program, whether it had sufficient regard for risks and whether it dealt with warnings or information about risks adequately.

It will also look at whether four deaths attributed to the botched scheme could have been avoided if the government had taken a different approach to identifying, assessing or managing workplace health and safety risks.

Queenslanders Matthew Fuller, 25, Reuben Barnes, 16, and Mitchell Sweeney, 22, were all electrocuted as a result of the disastrous and controversial "pink batts" scheme the former Rudd government established to help stimulate the national economy during the 2009 global financial crisis.

Marcus Wilson, 19, of NSW, also died as a result of the scheme.

Mr Arbib told the commission the scheme was rolled out at a time when the "government and country was in crisis" and the stimulus package was to provide thousands of jobs to Australians.

However, he "could not recall" whether he was told about the deaths of three people in New Zealand under a similar scheme before it was rolled out in Australia.

"A large part of the stimulus package was to create confidence and to keep people in jobs," he said.

"My role was not a decision-making one, but a communications one.

"My job was to be out selling the stimulus package and that is what I was doing.

"Other people were working on the detail."

Mr Arbib told the commission he had "no concerns" surrounding whether the scheme was ready to be rolled out on July, 1, 2009.

Former Environment Minister Peter Garrett will give evidence to the Royal Commission on Tuesday with former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd scheduled to give evidence on Wednesday.

Former Climate Change Minister Greg Combet is due to give evidence at the commission on Friday.

Topics:  deaths electrocution home insulation scheme

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