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Rudd apologises for insulation deaths

Kevin Rudd has apologised for the government's roof insulation stimulus project that saw the deaths of four young tradespeople during his last stint as prime minister.

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Kevin Rudd's apology to the families of those killed in the home insulation scandal is not enough, according to the Coalition, who say they will keep pushing the Prime Minister to disclose the warnings he received about the scheme.

On Thursday, the Queensland Coroner handed down damning findings into the electrocution of three young Queenslanders in 2009 and 2010, criticising the federal and Queensland governments over the deaths.

The directors and supervisors of ceiling insulation businesses that employed the young men could also face Workplace Safety charges.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, pictured in Indonesia, said he is 'deeply sorry' for the deaths of the three young Queenslanders.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, pictured in Indonesia, said he was 'deeply sorry' for the deaths of the three young Queenslanders. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Mr Rudd has since apologised unreservedly for the deaths, which occurred during his first prime ministership as his government rushed out the home insultation program at the height of the global financial crisis.

Describing the deaths of Matthew James Fuller, 25, Reuben Kelly Barnes, 16, and Mitchell Scott Sweeney, 22, as an ''unspeakable tragedy'', Mr Rudd said from Jakarta: ''As the Prime Minister of this country I am deeply sorry for what has occurred and, of course, I apologise for these deaths, given that it was a government program.''

The three Queenslanders were electrocuted while installing insulation in Queensland homes. Marcus Wilson, 19, who died in Sydney after installing pink batts in 40 plus degree temperatures, was not part of the Coroner's report.

Mitchell Sweeney, with his mother Wendy.

Mitchell Sweeney, with his mother Wendy.

Mr Rudd said he accepted the criticisms of the government by the Queensland Coroner, saying: ''Let's not beat around the bush - this was a government program.''

The parents of Mr Fuller, had earlier called for an apology from Mr Rudd. They told the ABC that Mr Rudd ''couldn't remember our names and has never apologised to our face''.

On Friday, the Coalition said that Mr Rudd's apology is not enough, and are calling on him to reveal the details about the warnings he received about the program.

Rueben Barnes died while installing insulation in 2009.

Rueben Barnes died while installing insulation in 2009. Photo: Supplied/The Chronicle

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott extended his ''deepest sympathies'' to the families involved.

''It really is up to the Prime Minister now not just to apologise but to explain. It's all very well he has apologised but now he's got to explain why it is that he did nothing despite at least ten direct warnings to him,'' he told reporters in Sydney.

Mr Abbott said the Coalition would pursue Mr Rudd on the matter in Parliament, if it was recalled.

''We will expect him to give a full account of himself.''

Coalition environment spokesman Greg Hunt also told reporters in Sydney, that on a personal level ''I do not think that Mr Rudd is a fit and proper person to be the Prime Minister of our country''.

Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey earlier said he understood that Mr Rudd had received ten written warnings about the scheme, including four from former environment minister Peter Garrett.

''If Kevin Rudd is being honest with the Australian people he should immediately release all the warning letters he received ... He's on about honesty and transparency, turning over a new leaf. Well he can do it right now,'' he told Fairfax Radio.

Acting Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said on Friday that he had not yet spoken to Mr Rudd about meeting with the families of the home insulation victims.

''But certainly... I would be willing to meet with anyone who wants to meet with me,'' Mr Albanese said.

Asked about Mr Hunt's suggestion that Mr Rudd was not a fit and proper person to be Prime Minister due to the fiasco, Mr Albanese said: ''If Greg Hunt wants to play politics with what is a human tragedy then that's a decision for him.''

Speed a factor

In his findings, State Coroner Michael Barnes said the federal government had not adequately assessed the risks for the program - noting that speed was a major contributor to this factor.

''The scoping of the risks likely to be generated and the safeguards that would contain them were miscalculated and inadequate,'' Mr Barnes said.

''Undoubtedly, a major contributor to the failure ... was the speed with which the program was conceived, designed and implemented.''

The Coroner noted that because a major focus of the program was to stimulate the economy, it needed to be rolled out much more quickly than a two-year time frame nominated by experts, ''but not at the cost of human life''.

''It is reasonable to conclude the dangers should have been foreseen and mitigated before three people died in Queensland and another in New South Wales.''

While the Coroner noted that work place safety regulation was primarily a state government responsibility, he also said it was ''reasonable to expect'' that when the federal government injected billions of dollars into the economy via a program designed to create employment for unskilled or unemployed workers, ''it would have regard to the possible safety implications''.

Government has learnt lessons

Last week, before the Coroner's findings were handed down, Mr Abbott wrote to Mr Rudd, asking him to release all correspondence he received about the home insulation scheme when he was first prime minister.

Specifically, Mr Abbott requested four letters from Mr Garrett in 2009 and four ''warnings'' provided by the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet in 2009 and 2010.

''As you would know, the implementation of the Home Insulation Program was a low-point in your previous administration,'' Mr Abbott said.

''I trust that you will honour this request in the interests of openness and transparency.''

Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus told ABC Radio on Friday that he didn't think it was "about releasing documents".

He pointed to a number of government inquiries into the scheme, including those by the Auditor-General, the CSIRO, consultants and former senior public servant Allan Hawke.

Mr Dreyfus said the government had learnt "a number of lessons".

Earlier during an interview with Channel Nine, he repeated Mr Rudd's apology, saying he had met with the families involved.

''I have met with the families of all of the young men who died and I've spoken to them on the phone since, and I've helped to make sure that they had legal representation when they needed it,'' Mr Dreyfus said.

Bosses to be investigated

The directors and supervisors of ceiling insulation businesses that employed the young men could also face Workplace Safety charges.

The Coroner referred Mr Barnes' bosses Christopher and Richard Jackson, who were executive directors for Arrow Property Management, for potential breaches of the Electrical Safety Act.

Christopher Jackson will also be investigated for perjury for allegedly giving false evidence during the inquest.

Mr Fuller's supervisor Ben McKay will be investigated to determine if he breached workplace health and safety laws by leaving the untrained worker unattended.

The Coroner condemned the lack of training the companies gave their employees and said the two Queensland workplace safety organisations reacted very slowly despite the obvious risks to untrained installers working in roof cavities.

Mr Barnes was especially critical of subcontractors using metal staples instead of plastic staples, with some suggestions given that installers found metal staples faster and easier to use.

Mr Barnes recommended the Queensland government make the installation of electrical safety switches compulsory in all Queensland homes "as a matter of urgency".

He also highlighted that there had still not been an electrical safety review of ceiling insulation work in Queensland.

He ordered that Safe Work Queensland conduct an urgent review.

Mr Barnes also ordered an immediate large scale public relations campaign to warn householders of the electrical dangers inside roof cavities.
 

With Michael Bachelard, Jonathan Swan, AAP

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