Former prime minister Kevin Rudd will appear before a royal commission into Labor’s botched home insulation program in which two senior public servants were given just two days to cost the scheme.
The royal commission into the pink batts program, which has been blamed for four deaths and hundreds of house fires, was told on Monday the public servants had little time to devise the financing arrangements for the $2.8 billion scheme before its release in early 2009.
Department of Environment assistant secretary Mary Wiley-Smith said she and a colleague worked long hours over the 2009 Australia Day long weekend so the finance department could approve the costings that Sunday.
Although they recommended a five-year program, the government tried to implement it within two years, she said.
“So you were asked to cost this over two days, not tell your colleagues and not contact industry?” counsel assisting the inquiry Keith Wilson asked Ms Wiley-Smith.
“Correct,” she replied.
Mr Rudd, former environment minister Peter Garrett and former senator Mark Arbib, who co-ordinated government stimulus programs, have all been called to appear at the commission.
Queenslanders Matthew Fuller, Rueben Barnes and Mitchell Sweeney, and Marcus Wilson from NSW, died while installing batts under the scheme.
Their deaths have heightened public interest in cabinet documents relating to the program, but lawyers representing the Commonwealth are seeking to have those documents withheld.
The documents, including letters between Mr Rudd and Mr Garrett, have been provided by the coalition government which, even when in opposition, threatened to give them to a royal commission.
Cabinet documents usually remain confidential for 30 years.
Commonwealth counsel Tom Howe, QC, has argued the documents should be suppressed and has until Thursday to provide an affidavit.
Counsel assisting Keith Wilson says they should be released.
“The documents are largely historical, they do not involve a current political controversy,” he told the inquiry.
Labor says the commission is a political witch hunt, but the government argues the public has a right to know more about how four insulation installers died and why there weren’t greater checks in place.
A state Coroner has already found the scheme’s rushed rollout was a significant factor in the three Queensland deaths.
Mr Rudd publicly apologised to the families of all four men last July, but the Fullers and Sweeneys weren’t impressed and demanded a face-to-face apology.
Matthew Fuller’s mother, Christine, has even told national television that she wants Mr Rudd “to disappear”.
The Rudd government launched the home insulation stimulus program in February 2009, during the global financial crisis, but it was terminated in February 2010.
The royal commission before Ian Hanger QC continues on Tuesday.