A technical adviser for the Rudd government’s home insulation program claims he was bullied and eventually sacked for blowing the whistle on serious safety risks.
Environmental scientist Troy Delbridge, who also claims the scheme’s costings were drawn on the back of a napkin by a senior politician, says he was basically told to shut up when he warned bureaucrats of safety risks before the program’s disastrous rollout.
The stimulus launched by the Rudd government in 2009 has been blamed for four deaths, one serious injury and more than 200 house fires.
In an explosive testimony to a royal commission, Dr Delbridge claimed his contract with the federal environment department was terminated about 20 minutes after he laid out all his safety concerns with director Aaron Hughes.
“There was no response (from Mr Hughes),” Dr Delbridge said of the July 29, 2009 meeting.
“It was like ‘ok, I’ve heard what you had to say, end of discussion’ and then the letter came,” he said.
The termination letter stated Dr Delbridge’s services, acquired only four months earlier, were no longer required due to “changed work requirements”.
Dr Delbridge said he was given an hour-and-a-half to pack up his desk and leave.
In the months before the meeting, Dr Delbridge said he had repeatedly raised concerns about risks, including installer safety and the dangers of foil insulation, with departmental staff.
He also wrote to Safe Work Australia in July about insulation installers’ failure to comply with safe work practices.
Dr Delbridge said he had tried to take his concerns up the bureaucratic chain, but was verbally threatened by environment department executive Will Kimber.
He believed bureaucrats weren’t keen to tackle the issues he raised because there was a message coming from “up high” that the program had to be implemented as fast as possible to create a “gazillion” jobs, he said.
Earlier, Dr Delbridge told the inquiry costings for the program were hurriedly drawn on the back of a napkin by a senior politician, possibly Kevin Rudd, and an insulation industry representative.
“It was one the prime minister’s inner circle, whether it was himself I’m not sure,” Dr Delbridge said, adding he believed the industry representative was Insulation Council of Australia and New Zealand (ICANZ) chief executive officer Dennis D’Arcy.
Dr Delbridge said he learned about the napkin after asking a departmental colleague to see the program’s costings.
“It was the kind of message that was going around that was ‘you didn’t hear that from me’,” he said.
The technical expert said he ended up being provided with a basic spreadsheet of the costings, which he may still have.
Dr Delbridge will resume his evidence on Friday.