Green Loans an insulation-style mess
Deaths, house fires and safety concerns have seen the Rudd/Gillard Government and Peter Garrett take plenty of heat over the disastrous Home Insulation Program, but three damning reports released last week reveal the failed $300 million Green Loans program was mismanaged on a similar scale.
The aforementioned deaths and house fires have understandably commanded more attention, but the scope of maladministration highlighted last week show that Peter Garrett has just as much to answer for over Green Loans and seriously calls into question the capacity of this Government to deliver whatever its latest climate change policies might entail.
Of key concern is that the report of the Faulkner inquiry (conducted by former Victorian Department of Human Services secretary Patricia Faulkner) identified 149 breaches or issues with Government procurement and contracting guidelines and legislation, including deliberate and systemic breaches with allegations of kickbacks to departmental staff.
Other problems identified included poor contract management, poor financial controls, poor management controls, a faulty program design described as “unnecessarily complex and
over engineered”, significant cost escalations and weak budget control, an apparent failure to factor in any interest rate rises and a lack of control over the number of assessors.
This lack of control over assessor numbers in particular has caused much pain and financial stress for those who invested their time and money in helping the environment through this Government program only to find they would not be contracted, or in any case that the work had dried up.
The Government had promised the appointment of 1000 home sustainability assessors for a program that only commenced in July 2009, but by March this year had signed contracts with 4000.
Astonishingly, a further 5000 have already trained to become assessors, many more than will ever be contracted. If they haven’t already long since written off their losses and given up, these thousands are left hanging while the Government supposedly finalises plans for future contracts… if it ever lifts the freeze that’s now been in place for four months!
For those who missed the recent production of the classic play Waiting for Godot, Godot still hadn’t shown up by the time the curtain fell. The thousands of assessors waiting for decisions from the Minister now responsible, Penny Wong, will likely see the end to this program before any such decisions are forthcoming.
Potentially more damaging in the long term is a general loss of public confidence in Government environmental programs. At least 100,000 homeowners who had a sustainability assessment undertaken missed out on the interest-free loan of up to $10,000 that was supposed to be available to them, all because the Government never gave back their reports until after it had suddenly discontinued the loans component of its Green Loans scheme.
In fact, just 7000 loans were delivered out of the 200,000 Green Loans promised by Labor before the last election.
The election promise is a key point, not only because this constitutes a clear broken promise but because Green Loans was planned long before home insulation. Green Loans wasn’t an emergency measure to stimulate the economy at the height of the global financial crisis. It wasn’t an idea conceived at the last minute and rushed in order to generate jobs. Yet Resolution Consulting still found the “focus was on meeting Government expectations for the timeliness of the program delivery rather than running the program effectively and in accordance with Departmental requirements.”
Green Loans was first promised in April 2007. The fact that even after being elected in November 2007, Labor had no loans on the table until July 2009 should have been a warning sign of difficulties in program development.
These are some of the reasons it is not enough to say, as Penny Wong has, that Peter Garrett had simply relied on advice, and that he later instigated some audits (long after the loans program had essentially collapsed).
Last week’s reports highlight fundamental flaws in the program design, let alone its implementation and oversight, yet Peter Garrett and the Rudd/Gillard Government ploughed ahead. Peter Garrett was the Minister responsible for a bad program that he imposed on the Department, and he was the Minister responsible for overseeing its development and implementation.
Add Green Loans to Peter Garrett’s record of the disastrous Home Insulation Program, plus repeated scrapping and suspension of solar programs causing uncertainty for that industry, and it is simply unbelievable that he still sits at the Cabinet table on the same Cabinet Minister’s salary.
There are still two more reports on Green Loans to come in. PricewaterhouseCoopers was given the specific task back in February of auditing the assessor accreditation process and adherence to the terms of the Protocol for Assessor Accrediting Organisations between the Department and the only accrediting organisation it ever appointed.
Penny Wong must commit to publicly releasing this report also, with assessors and taxpayers footing the bills deserving to know fully what went wrong.
Those following this debacle will also eagerly await the Auditor-General’s inquiry into Green Loans, due in September. If it proves to be even half as damning as the Faulkner inquiry it must surely signal that the last of Peter Garrett’s many lives has been reached.
And until a Minister is made accountable for these failures, voters will be left to judge at the ballot box whether Labor can be trusted to deliver programs to address climate change and help the environment, or whether they simply inflict damage and pain on those already trying to make a difference, as well as enormous costs on taxpayers.
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