Former prime minister Kevin Rudd has been grilled in court about his government’s failed home insulation scheme, this time as a witness in a Victorian class action seeking more than $150 million in damages.
More than 140 installers and manufacturers are suing the Commonwealth over the insulation scheme, claiming they lost millions as a result of the sudden shutdown of the program in February 2010, seven months after it had begun.
The scheme was scrapped prematurely after the worksite deaths of four installers.
Mr Rudd gave evidence in the Victorian Supreme Court trial via video link from New York, where he works at the Asia Society Policy Institute.
He was initially asked to confirm he had served as Prime Minister between 2007 and 2010 and again for several months in 2013.
“That’s correct,” Mr Rudd responded. “I have the scar tissue to prove it.”
Under cross-examination, Mr Rudd was asked whether the public service had informed him the scheme would carry safety risks to households or workers before it was announced.
“No I was not,” Mr Rudd replied.
“The royal commission into this matter reached the same conclusion, having looked at every conceivable document under the sun both within the cabinet process and the non-cabinet process on this matter.”
Mr Rudd told the trial that if the public service had recommended delaying the introduction of the scheme due to unacceptable safety risks, he would have told them, “You have to get this right, we cannot proceed with a program that has unacceptable safety risks”.
“The first consideration I would have had would have been get the safety matters resolved,” he said.
“I cannot speak on behalf of my [cabinet] colleagues but … that would have been their first consideration as well, I think. I cannot speak for them.”
‘End of the tether’
Mr Rudd said the public service first informed him of the safety risks associated with the scheme in February 2009, the same month it was scrapped.
The court heard the scheme was established to help stimulate the economy in response to the global financial crisis and to reduce energy use in homes.
Barristers for both the business owners and the Commonwealth asked Mr Rudd hypothetical questions that became more truncated as his examination wore on.
Close to the end of his evidence, Mr Rudd said he could not continue answering hypothetical questions which took no account of what else may have hypothetically happened, such as the number of financial institutions that could have hypothetically fallen over in that period.
“I think we might have got to the end of the tether,” he said.
Technical issues initially delayed Mr Rudd’s appearance by about half an hour, slightly less than the time it took to give his evidence.
The trial before Justice John Dixon is expected to conclude by next month.