Former prime minister Kevin Rudd has caught the royal commission investigating his government's failed home insulation program in a legal conundrum that threatens to derail the inquiry.
The Australian Government Solicitor took a black marker to Mr Rudd's statement to the commission on behalf of the Commonwealth government, redacting more than half of the 31-page document for Cabinet secrecy reasons.
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Rudd gagged at Royal Commission
Kevin Rudd says he can't give full evidence at the Royal Commission into the Home Insulation Scheme unless secrecy surrounding his Cabinet statements are revealed. Nine News
Mr Rudd was due to give evidence at the inquiry in Brisbane on Wednesday evening, but his lawyer Bret Walker said his client could not give a full explanation of his role in the scheme unless the Cabinet secrecy provisions were lifted.
The former prime minister sat silently in the witness box for more than 30 minutes while lawyers debated his heavily redacted statement.
In the un-redacted portion of his statement, Mr Rudd said the "vast bulk" of his engagement on the insulation scheme was through the Cabinet process.
He said it would therefore be very difficult for him to provide any "meaningful assistance" to the commission that was not "in one way or another prohibited from public disclosure".
"I have no difficulty at all with anything that I state ... being publicly disclosed," Mr Rudd said.
"It is in any event in my view important for the families concerned that this material be considered."
The commission has been asked to examine whether the deaths of four insulation installers, Matthew Fuller, Rueben Barnes, Marcus Wilson and Mitchell Sweeney, could have been avoided.
Mr Rudd's lawyer Bret Walker said his client could not tell his side of the story while being met with a "devastating truncation of the truth".
Mr Walker said the issue put in doubt all the documents already presented to the commission so far, which had been redacted for Cabinet confidentiality purposes.
This, he said, included the statements of former Labor ministers Peter Garrett and Mark Arbib, which were also redacted in parts.
But counsel representing the Commonwealth, Tom Howe QC, said Cabinet procedures were protected by confidentiality law and could not be compromised upon the request of a former prime minister, or a serving one.
"It's not an immunity that should be applied at the whim of a former minister," Mr Howe said.
He said the publication of Cabinet workings would threaten the confidence of future governments.
Mr Walker responded: "We don't want to dance, we want to face it frontly and march straight ahead ...
"They [the public] want to know what happened, Mr Rudd would like to them what happened."
Commissioner Ian Hanger QC said he would consider accepting Mr Rudd's statement in full and without redactions overnight.
In his statement, Mr Rudd said he appointed former Labor senator Mr Arbib to the role of Parliamentary Secretary to oversee the rollout of the $2.8 billion Home Insulation Program, as part of the government's wider $42 billion stimulus package, during the global financial crisis.
"Senator Arbib was known as a highly competent, highly effective individual, known for his attention to detail, and with sufficient political standing within the government to perform this challenging role," Mr Rudd said.
"This is why I appointed him to this position."
Mr Rudd said the appointment of Mr Arbib and then-environment minister Mr Garrett as co-ordinators of the scheme was to ensure "multiple eyes could be deployed to identify problems as early as possible".
"I also had great confidence in Minister Garrett and in the additional support structures we had put in place for him and for other ministers responsible for the implementation of their parts of the stimulus strategy," he said.
Mr Garrett has previously told the inquiry he accepts full responsibility for the program, while Mr Arbib has said he takes responsibility for "his role".