Quick Link – Possum on HIP and Fire Risk

The Liberals have put much at stake painting the Home Insulation Program as an unmitigated disaster. However Possum has conducted a rigorous analysis of fire rates, controlling for a number of issues. The bottom line is that, “the data strongly suggested that the insulation program actually made the industry safer in terms of fire risk.”

See Possum’s full analysis here

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47 responses to “Quick Link – Possum on HIP and Fire Risk”

  1. tssk

    I’ve actually pointed this out to a friend before only to have him accuse me of being disrespectful of the four young men who died.

    And that is why the ALP will have to continue to sheet blame home to Garrett rather than publicise this.

  2. Doug

    Nothing to do with disrespect to people who died – the disrespect is on those who left this inducstry unregulated for so long

  3. wilful

    And let us recall (with sympathy to their families) the circumstances for four men who died. One, aged 19 and with an intellectual disability, died due to heat stroke, working on a 42 degree day. Two qualified electricians, electrocuted due to improper installation of foil insulation. And a final one, several months after the responsible Minister prohibited it, still using metal rather than plastic staples.

    The blame for these lies directly with the company employing them, and secondarily with State OH&S systems. In a rational world it would have nothing to do with the Federal minister.

  4. tssk

    That is true wilful. But that horse has bolted now. The companies responsible are blaming the minister. The families of the deceased are blaming the minister (and Rudd.) And the opposition is blaming the minister. And the fact he’s been shuffled out of the portfolio has given everyone the impression that the buck stops with him.

    So if (when) Garrett steps down…does that change the balance enough for power to shift to Abbott?

  5. Chris

    The reports I heard about the auditor general report pretty much said the same thing as well. But also that the report was critical of the rollout because they did not sufficiently address the risk issue when deliberately increasing demand – eg presumably they believe the government should have done more work to make the industry safer when the very rapidly increased the size of the industry. And also done more work to reduce fraud in the program.

    There was also a report in the local paper saying that the number of homes found to have insulation installation problems during the audit will not be released because it would scare the public. That seems a bit strange.

  6. Chris

    wilful @ 3 – didn’t the state government warn the federal department that the state based OH&S systems may not be able to cope with the rapid growth in the industry?

  7. joe2

    It looks like bureaucrats have also decided to tackle the misinformation …

    Department official Martin Bowles told a Senate committee that faulty insulation installation had resulted in 197 fires.

    He says the number is insignificant given more than 1 million houses were insulated under the program.

    “One hundred and ninety-seven fires roughly equates to less than 0.02 of a per cent, which is significantly less than what we understand to be the long-term average of those sorts of significant fire issues within insulation,” he said.


  8. tssk

    And it looks like the real culprit has been found.


    THE Auditor-General’s report into the Federal Government’s home insulation program is utterly damning, but it leaves unmentioned the real source of the catastrophe – Kevin Rudd.

    To save you reading further Julia Gillard and Peter Garrett are also implicated pretty damn heavily.

    All that’s missing is WAKE UP SHEEPLE!

  9. wilful

    chris, I’m not aware of those warnings.

  10. sg

    I looked at this on my blog a while back in terms of time at risk, and there’s just no way you can slice the figures that doesn’t support the conclusion that the HIP reduced rates of fires. The program was a huge success!

  11. Fiona Reynolds

    Had the Coalition been in power, and had they the imagination to initiate such a program, they would have been trumpeting its success from the very rooftops that had been insulated.

    As for the deaths of the workers … well, you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs, you know.

    Or to use one of the neocons’ favourite euphemisms, gotta expect some collateral damage.

  12. Marks

    Tssk @ 1

    No disrespect meant, however, I suggest that that typifies the problem Labor has.

    One negative response from the focus groups, and they back off and give up.

    Sometimes one has to pound the friggin truth into people, or re-state the case. However, one should never ever give in to lies.

    That has been the Labor weakness over so many things over the past year. Oh woe is us, the focus groups don’t understand and the Murdoch press is agin us, nothing we can do other than just give up.

    The Government has much more in the way of resources than Possum, (going for understatement of the year, btw) and yet how long has it taken to work it out, and then very very half heartedly use those facts that Possum worked out in a few weeks way back when?

    *shakes head*

    I repeat that I do not direct this rant at you personally tssk.

  13. jane

    Fiona @11, how true. I really can’t understand why the government went to water so quickly over the insulation program and the BER. During the course of both programs they should indeed have trumpetting their success, complete with beaming satisfied customers.

    And they should have also have particularly pressed the point that the deaths should be sheeted home to the irresponsibility of the employers, which of course has been supported by the subsequent inquiries.

  14. tssk

    Marks…I agree totally with what you say and share your frustration.

  15. BilB

    It is my recollection that JohnD came to very similar conclusions and quantified them here on LP at the time.

  16. Terry

    Re dodgy insulatio inspections.
    I spoke to an electrician carrying out inspections on insulation installations. He says that he is in a catch 22 as if he has any concern whatsoever about the structural integrity of the house he has to report the inulation as unsafe. As many of the older houses show deterioration of electrical wiring due generally to vermin he has to condemn the insulation. In most cases it is not, in fact, the insulation or the manner of its installation but a preexisting defect in the home (eg the wiring).
    As he is employed by the government, he can only condemn the work not fix it. In most cases the cost of rewiring is the responsibility of the homeowner but, inevitably, homeowners are saying to him that they expect “somebody” to fis up their defective wiring:that somebody is you and me.

  17. Mercurius

    1) Good news doesn’t sell papers.
    2) Australians love to whinge.
    3) Facts don’t change prejudices.

    The rest writes itself.

  18. joe2

    Lefty E linked to a good news story about the insulation program the other day, even if you needed to wade through the now traditional pile on introduction …”it may be one of the worst-run government programs in memory, but Kevin Rudd’s botched insulation scheme did what it was designed to do”.


  19. lomlate

    The house fires I don’t have an issue with. The heat stroke I can understand was an issue that is purely OHS. But the electrocutions? It seems to me that a good program would have recognised that electrocutions could have occurred and only allowed pink bats. To that extent, the program can be blamed. Why the foil product even exists in the first place is completely beyond me.

  20. Chris

    lolmate @ 19 – foil products exist because they are extremely efficient at reducing summer heat gain . Especially with the popularity of dark coloured roofs.

    Better is to put the foil between the battens and the roof lining (colorbond or tiles generally) as is done when building new houses, but that is very very labor intensive (perhaps not too bad if you just want to employ people during a recession).

    Whether the program planners should have forseen the issues of poor wiring and foil is a different matter. In retrospect its pretty obvious that the houses which need insulation are going to be the older ones where its a lot more likely that there will be wiring problems – both from age and less strict standards at the time of building. Given that the primary aim of the program was economic stimulation rather than energy efficiency, perhaps some funds could have been set aside for checking & fixing electrical problems.

  21. moz

    Chris, “checking and fixing” electrics in older houses often means completely rewiring them. Can you imagine the screams if people could only get the cheap insulation after spending $20,000 rewiring their houses?
    Our place is only 40-odd years old but has crumbly electrical insulation and exposed wiring in the roof. Plus lathe and plaster walls, so reaching the in-wall wiring is not an option (it’s more accurately “in-plaster” wiring). Every time an electrician looks at something they refuse to touch it unless they can rip out whatever has stopped working and wire a new circuit from the new distribution board. Being a rental there’s no interest in doing the whole job in one hit, so I expect we’ll just see more conduit screwed to the walls as time goes by.
    But the good news is that we now have earthed electrical outlets in the front rooms, the fizzing noise from the lightswitch by the front door has gone (as has the switch), and one day soon they might even replace the old fuses that keep rattling loose and blowing up our electronics.
    I think it’s a plot to make us buy our own house…

  22. Chris

    moz – yes there would be plenty of screams if people weren’t able to get the free insulation. But the alternative of installing insulation when there are electrical problems is not better. At the very least people would have been made aware that there are electrical problems and future tradies (say someone installs a/c system) can be warned before entering the roofspace.

    I think as a compromise they’ve been installing those earth leakage safety circuits rather than remove insulation – a bit of risk management I guess.

    Electrical safety is perhaps something that should be required to be checked/fixed on sale of a house – kind of like many states now do with pool fences. Current homeowners aren’t forced to do anything but if they sell they have to install a pool fence.

  23. Russ

    Tony Abbott has read the report and believes the program should continue:

    “As things stand, each bereaved family knows that the Australian
    people respect their loss and value their sacrifice. We have honoured their deaths by continuing their campaign. How worth while would these deaths now seem if the Australian government were to abandon the cause for which they died? How would those families feel if the Australian government were to conclude that the task is now too hard or should never have been undertaken in the first place?”

  24. joe2

    Yes Russ, the same thing was running through my mind when I read Tones latest blathering on the war. Too bad the coalition so badly trashed the insulation scheme that four people died working on. It might have been a mark of respect to at least acknowledge that their labours were for a great social benefit instead of dumping shit on it at every turn.

    But of course they do not believe there is a need to cut back on energy consumption because climate change “is crap”, there was no global recession and ordinary people do not deserve a hand when installing an energy saving device.

  25. consumer

    What might explain the far lower rate of fires per install under HIP v non-HIP? We are told that there was no risk-mitigation work in preparation for the ramp-up of work (regulation).

    Suggests that installation under HIP is somehow different…

    If we implemented a vaccine, and the vaccinated population didn’t show a similar level of side-effects as the trial, that would require some explanation and tests of efficacy.

  26. consumer

    Sorry, missed the bit where Possum mentions the regulation coming in as the cause for improvement. I also missed hearing it from the government when all of this was blowing up.

    Can some kind person point me to the chronology of those changes?

  27. Wozza

    If you are wondering, Consumer, why, after two days, none of those who have swooned in earlier comments over the sheer wonderfulness of the Home Insulation Program have bothered to address your simple questions, my advice is “don’t wait”.

    It is the tradition on LP that the only argument that needs to be deployed on this subject is “Possum said so, he is all-knowing and nothing else is relevant”.

    If it is any consolation, the same tactic is deployed in any attempted discussion of the remarkable absence of a cost-benefit case for the NBN. I wonder why Australia bothers with an elected Government really, when Possum is so clearly the correct adjudicator and formulator for any and every piece of public policy.

  28. tssk

    I disagree Wozza but I would put it this way. Size of Possum’s audience<size of Pier's audience and in the market of ideas quantity of eyeballs makes right.

    Also the Abbott comparison with the whole war thing doesn't sit right with me. It seems like a low blow and not really a similar situation.

  29. David Irving (no relation)

    Wozza, it’s actually more like, “Possum makes considerably more sense than, say, Wozza, plus he can string a logical argument together, so let’s pay attention to what he’s saying.”

  30. Wozza

    I think you missed out “and he says what we want him to say” in the quotes there, David.

  31. David Irving (no relation)

    Nope – didn’t leave out a thing. Unlike you, he makes cogent arguments, backed up with facts and analysis.

    If you need help with the maths, I can recommend a couple of good textbooks.

  32. Wozza

    I’m pretty good with maths, thanks David, but if you’re feeling in a helpful mood there are those couple of questions up there from Consumer that prompted this last little flurry of exchanges. Possum’s cogency being what it is, I’m sure you could extract the answers from it without any trouble.

  33. David Irving (no relation)

    I thought consumer had answered his own question Wozza.

    If he’s still interested, I’m pretty sure all his questions could be answered by reading Possum’s first piece on the scheme’s success.

  34. joe2

    tssk @28 I would have thought the really “low blow” around the insulation program was for Abbott and co to shamelessly milk the deaths of four unfortunates, for all its political worth, while purposely obscuring the real value of the scheme.

    If Tony is so concerned about dishonouring the families of the dead in a military engagement maybe it would also be appropriate for him to recognise the contribution and value of those who died in day to day workplace accidents by not so blindly demeaning that task.

  35. Wozza

    If I were a cynic, David – heaven forfend, of course – I might be tempted to read the qualified “pretty sure” as “I haven’t actually got a clue, but Possum rules OK”.

    In any case since since quite clearly neither you nor I (yes, I plead as guilty as you) is going to do anything to provide a less qualified and more evidential response, I think we have reached an impasse.

  36. David Irving (no relation)

    No Wozza, “pretty sure” means “pretty sure, but if you’re too fucking lazy to do your own research, I’ve got better ways to waste my time than doing it for you.”

    Note the subtle difference.

  37. Wozza

    What s subtle difference? That I’m fucking lazy, but, although you are doing exactly the same as me – ie nothing -in terms of answering the questions, you are morally upright and hard-working?

    Look, get it into your thick head – reading what I originally said @27 for meaning rather than for reinforcing your own prejudices might be a start – that I don’t give a shit what the answers to the questions are, which is why I have no intemntion of researching them. My point was and remains that on this subject the response of any of the usual suspects is merely “Possum, Possum, Possum”, and if asked to think for themselves on it, or even explain in their own words what Possum has actually said, they can’t. Dumb as boxes of bricks. Every comment you post reinforces the thesis.

  38. Marks

    I might be wrong about this Wozza, but I think what DI is saying is that Possum has crunched some numbers to come up with a conclusion.

    You are offering a contrary opinion without crunching your own.

    So, if you crunch some numbers and come up with a different conclusion. Fair enough. We can then look at both sides of the argument and at least those who are swinging voters can decide.

    At the moment, someone who was a swinging voter would see:

    Possum has crunched some numbers and presented them to back his opinions.

    Wozza has stated a contrary opinion.

    As triffic a person as you are, do you see where you might not quite make it trying to convince someone unaligned?

    Seriously, if you can fault Possum’s numbers, you have made a powerful point. If you can’t, it’s just politics as usual.

  39. consumer

    Possum’s initial article, nor the follow-up cite chapter and verse of the regulations which were implemented when the programme was introduced.

    That is not a failing of the two articles, but for a start, it would be great to be able to replicate this safety silver-bullet more generally.

    I think it is also important that these details are not just presumed to be out there, but actually assembled in a history dealing with the sacrifice of the last PM.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Energy_Efficient_Homes_Package for example does not include this interesting aspect. Those with the data and an interest in persuasion should certainly update it.

  40. joe2

    I agree consumer. The document “Ministerial Statement: Home Insulation Program” by Peter Garret would be a good starting point to get some kind of timeline up.


  41. Possum Comitatus


    Chapter 5 of the ANAO report is pretty much dedicated to the regulatory change involved over the program in terms of quality control standards.

    There were lots of other tweaks and changes as well that had consequences as far as what went on “on the ground” – the report goes through them all and is a pretty comprehensive document.

    But it is hard to condense it into easy talking points because so many issues and events were interrelated.

  42. joe2

    Possum, I wish you would write a book on it. It would be great to see the whole saga somehow brought together without the hysteria factor.

  43. joe2
  44. Possum Comitatus


    A book on government funded installation of insulation?

    I’d hate to imagine what crimes I’d perpetrated in a previous life to have to do such a thing 😛

    The media treatment of this program isn’t dramatically different to the way it treats any given policy program – with the focus locked on the superficial and mostly fabricated political drama involved and the sensationalism of selected juicy talking points rather than the “what, why, when and how” of what the policy actually did or didnt do, and how it happened.

    I think we just noticed this and the BER more than usual because the of extra dollop of unhinging involved by some sections of the media/political community over it.

    But think back on any given policy reporting over the last decade – the same rubbish happened nearly universally.

    If you’re using the mainstream media – particularly the print media (though the Fin Review is the exception here) – to get your dose of what is happening in Australia, you’re seeing policy events filtered through a prism of rank mediocrity. It’s not new, it’s just that these two (the insulation program and the BER) got the special sauce treatment where we had a press gallery circle jerk on the narrative combined with the leadership of a Newspaper going berko, and a bunch of journalists trying to punch above their weight, where their intellectual aspirations far exceeded their ability.

    Welcome to Australian media when it comes to policy analysis.

    Also didn’t help that this government is the most useless since Federation when it comes to defending itself – but that’s just a bit of constant these days.

  45. Hal9000

    [email protected]

    But think back on any given policy reporting over the last decade – the same rubbish happened nearly universally.

    I think you have to distinguish social/infrastructure spending programs with defence and tax cut/middle class welfare programs here, Possum. Those programs never get the ‘botched’ tag, no matter how little they achieve and how much they cost.

  46. Hal9000

    …with the significant exception of defence procurement, where I suspect the factors in play are inter-service competition for funds, and commercial competition, feeding the media chooks their talking points.

  47. j_p_z

    Possum: “A book on government funded installation of insulation?”

    Well, why not? After all, “The Crying of Lot 49” is about the post office.


    Like a man said: “One never knows, do one?”