Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard called to batts royal commission

High-stakes move: Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard are among the ministers served notice to surrender any documents relating to the Home Insulation Program. Photo: Andrew Meares
High-stakes move: Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard are among the ministers served notice to surrender any documents relating to the Home Insulation Program. Photo: Andrew Meares

Two former prime ministers and five Labor ministers have been summoned to provide all documentation and be ready to appear before the Abbott government's batts insulation royal commission.

The ministers have been served notice they should surrender any documents in their possession relating to the Home Insulation Program, in which four men died, before it was stopped.

The high-stakes move has put the Hanger royal commission on a potential collision course with the principle that governments do not get access to either the cabinet papers or the in-camera deliberations of their predecessors in office.

Summonses have also been sent to a number of government departments and to consultants engaged to advise on risk management aspects of the program.

Senior public servants associated with running the scheme, including Treasury Secretary Martin Parkinson, who then headed the Department of Climate Change, may also be subpoenaed, according to informed sources.

The development means Australians are likely to witness the rare spectacle of one, perhaps two, former prime ministers being grilled over a politically charged program in which four men died and hundreds of houses caught fire.

It also raises the prospect of a royal commission using its extensive inquisitorial powers to compel witnesses to answer questions and to press ministers and public servants to breach the well-established cabinet confidentiality convention that normally ensures secrecy for 30 years.

The Home Insulation Program, which was rolled out in 2009 as a stimulus measure during the global financial crisis at a cost of about $2.5 billion, was eventually cut, but not before 220 fires after shoddy installation, 27 of which caused significant structural damage.

The sudden injection of money resulted in about 1.2 million homes being fitted with free or subsidised ceiling insulation.

But the spike in demand also attracted unqualified contractors, leading to fraud and unsafe work practices directly leading to the deaths of installers Matthew Fuller, Rueben Barnes, Mitchell Sweeney and Marcus Wilson.

Fairfax Media has learned the sole Labor frontbencher of the seven ministers, trade spokeswoman Penny Wong, has been summonsed. She was climate change minister at the time.

Labor sources have confirmed that summonses have been sent to then prime minister Kevin Rudd, his deputy at the time Julia Gillard, his finance minister Lindsay Tanner, his environment minister Peter Garrett, climate change minister Greg Combet, and the assistant minister charged with co-ordinating government stimulus spending programs, Mark Arbib.

Spokespeople for Mr Rudd and Ms Gillard said on Tuesday that neither would be commenting on the royal commission.

Former treasurer Wayne Swan has been contacted by phone.

Mr Swan was one of the so-called ''gang of four'' ministerial sub-group along with Mr Rudd, Mr Tanner and Ms Gillard that streamlined decision making during the financial crisis, often abbreviating normal cabinet processes.

All have all been advised they may be called to appear before the Brisbane-based inquiry.

Privately, there is scepticism within the ALP over the real reason for the inquiry into the program, which has already been examined by the former Defence Department secretary Allan Hawke, the Australian National Audit Office and inquests in NSW and Queensland.

Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus has sent a letter to the Coalition saying the issue of improving workplace safety "should not be politicised" through a royal commission into the pink batts program.

"We expect that the announced royal commission will be conducted for the purpose of improving workplace safety rather than for any partisan political purpose," Mr Dreyfus wrote.

He pointed out that Labor's home insulation program had already been the subject of six reports or reviews, and questioned the value of yet another inquiry.

Mr Dreyfus said it was lax state and territory regulations and criminal conduct by employers, rather than actions taken by the Rudd government, that had been found to have contributed most significantly to the deaths of the four young men.

He suggested the Abbott government broaden its terms of reference for the royal commission to include the "adequacy of state and territory laws" and consideration of stricter building codes for the home insulation industry.

Mr Dreyfus also suggested the Coalition appoint a joint commissioner "who has extensive experience in workplace safety matters".

None of the other former and current Labor MPs would comment when contacted by Fairfax Media.

This story Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard called to batts royal commission first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.