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Home insulation inquiry: Peter Garrett 'unaware' department was stretched

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Royal Commission will deliver justice

The family of deceased insulation installer Mitchell Sweeney are "very interested" to hear how much Peter Garrett and Kevin Rudd knew about the botched scheme.

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Former environment minister Peter Garrett was unaware his department did not have the "capacity or capability" to roll out the home insulation scheme under a tight time frame, he told an inquiry on Tuesday.

Mr Garrett was called to give evidence at the royal commission investigating what advice was given to the Rudd government before it implemented the $2.8 billion Home Insulation Program in mid-2009.

He said he had a conversation with then-prime minister Kevin Rudd on January 19, in which Mr Rudd requested that he develop a "big policy" that was "technology specific", "nation changing" and had the effect of "greening the suburbs".

Former environment minister Peter Garrett.

Former environment minister Peter Garrett.

Mr Garrett said he was not aware his department was already working to capacity when the HIP was announced on February 3, 2009.

He did not make any inquiries beforehand to determine whether the department could handle the extra workload.

"I had no reason to believe it was outside the remit of government for that to happen," Mr Garrett said.

Former environment minister Peter Garrett arrives at the Home Insulation Inquiry at the Brisbane Magistrates Court.

Former environment minister Peter Garrett arrives at the Home Insulation Inquiry at the Brisbane Magistrates Court. Photo: Glenn Hunt

"My understanding is that departments pretty much work to capacity."

Counsel Assisting Keith Wilson, QC, suggested it would have been embarrassing for the Rudd government to push back the start date of the program beyond July 1, 2009, after it was publicly announced.

"Embarrassment doesn't come into it," Mr Garrett said.

Mr Wilson questioned why the implementation of the scheme was not postponed once it became apparent the department did not have a capacity to meet the July 1 deadline.

"They [the department] could have told me to move the date, but they didn't," Mr Garrett said.

The inquiry has already heard from former Labor senator Mark Arbib who said Mr Garrett was "in charge" of the program.

The “pink batts" program ended in infamy as hundreds of unregulated and untrained installers flooded the market, leading to 224 house fires and four deaths before the program was abandoned in early 2010.

The hearing before Ian Hanger QC continues.

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