Former prime minister Kevin Rudd has blamed his failure to suspend the home insulation program after the first installer died on the fact his then environment minister Peter Garrett and public servants never told him to do so.
But Mr Rudd said he took "ultimate responsibility" for the "deep tragedy" of his government's failed $2.8 billion insulation scheme which resulted in the deaths of four installers, one of whom was only 16.
Asked if he considered suspending the program for a full safety audit after the death of Matthew Fuller, Mr Rudd said: "The program was operating until its conclusion ... with more than one million homes, with more than 10,000 employees ... and the position was to take advice from the portfolio minister responsible [Mr Garrett] and the public service advising me."
"I’m answering this as honestly as I can.’’
He later said he thought of Mr Garrett as a man of the highest integrity.
Mr Rudd was giving evidence in Brisbane on Thursday at the royal commission investigating the failed insulation scheme, which was also blamed for causing 224 house fires.
Former PM Kevin Rudd leaves the Home Insulation Inquiry in Brisbane on Thursday. Photo: Glenn Hunt
Elizabeth Wilson, QC, acting for the siblings of 16-year-old electrocuted insulation installer Rueben Barnes, suggested to Mr Rudd that such a position did not restrict him from suspending the program.
But Mr Rudd said it was not in his practice to form an individual reflection on the basis of partial information as "you may get things wrong". "That is why the discipline of the office requires you take advice," he said.
"I don’t want to suggest to you that I had some further lines of investigation on this than I did."
Mr Rudd said he could not remember if he raised the issue of safety at any point during cabinet discussions to set up the scheme, or prior to the first death.
"I cannot recall receiving any advice in the period when this decision was taken in January, or later with the expansion of the program in June/July," he said.
Mr Rudd also revealed there was a system of monthly reporting in place to keep ministers abreast of whether programs were going "off the rails".
He explained the reports operated using a "colour signal system", with green for "on track" and red for "in difficulty".
The reports did not raise a red light for the insulation scheme until March 2010 by which time four installers had died - something which "surprised" Mr Rudd.
He recalled hearing about the first death: " ... that as a human being was just horrible," he said.
And he said he was moved when he received a letter from Matthew Fuller’s father.
"His letter genuinely moved me because you could read in it the total pain of a father. His letter noted and I cannot forget this, that his son, his only child, their only child, was born in the same year as my daughter.
"You cannot read that and not be moved."