Rudd faces batts inquiry

THE father of a former Griffith man killed in the government’s botched pink batts scheme gave heartbreaking evidence when he took to the witness box at the Royal Commission into the Home Insulation Program in Brisbane last week.

UNDER PRESSURE: Former prime minister Kevin Rudd leaves the Royal Commission at the Brisbane Magistrates Court for a lunch break.

UNDER PRESSURE: Former prime minister Kevin Rudd leaves the Royal Commission at the Brisbane Magistrates Court for a lunch break.

As former prime minster Kevin Rudd waited to give evidence in a small meeting room outside the court on Thursday, Griffith’s Martin Sweeney, who lost his son Mitchell, was in the witness box in the room next door trying to explain what it was like to lose a son.

“No family should have to endure what this family did,” Mr Sweeney said. 

Mitchell, 25, was electrocuted while laying insulation sheeting in February 2010.

“We’ll never stop missing you (Mitchell),” said an emotional Mr Sweeney.

Minutes later, under the gaze of relatives of the three other installers who died, Mr Rudd entered the same witness box and gave evidence about his role in the $2.8 billion program.

Just hours after Mr Rudd announced the home insulation program, an email pinged into one of his many electronic mailboxes.

The communication “from a constituent” and starting “Dear Mr Rudd” arrived at 7.45pm, and warned of major problems with the insulation industry such as the number of “shonks” and lack of training, among other issues.

But Mr Rudd never saw it, according to evidence given to the Royal Commission.

His attention was focused on bigger things, such as the global financial crisis and the upcoming G20 meeting of world leaders in London, he told the inquiry.

“Frankly at this stage in February 2009 I was concerned about a meeting that was to take place in March 2009, which is where the heads of all the governments were talking that the bottom was going to fall out of the world’s economy,’’ he told the commission on Thursday.

“I was a late convert to the information revolution and at this stage I was not scrolling through my screen looking at PM mail. I don’t even know what PM mail is.’’

During his evidence, Mr Rudd appeared visibly upset as he was questioned by the lawyer representing the sister of Marcus Wilson, the third installer to die.

His voice softened and words slowed when he said the system of checks and balances had failed to save the lives of four young Australians.

“And I don’t like that, I just don’t like it,” he said.

“Nothing affects you more fundamentally to see young men, as young as 16, die in these sorts of industrial accidents ...

“I don’t pretend to have the wisdom of Solomon to know which element is the most efficient.”

When pressed as to why he did not do more to make the program safer, Mr Rudd continued to blame public servants for failing to push safety issues up the chain to Cabinet and the responsible minister, Peter Garrett, for not raising the issue.


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