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“Insulation royal commission exposes fatal market flaws” The Conversation 8/9/14

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 08/09/2014 - 4:18pm in




The most important finding in the final report of the Royal Commission into the Home Insulation Program is the one the Abbott government is least likely to heed. One of the two crucial flaws Commissioner Ian Hanger identified was the decision to build the Home Insulation Program (HIP) around a laissez-faire market-delivery model. By offering an easily accessed rebate, the Rudd government decided that start-up companies, not the public service, would have oversight of the program.

Hanger’s report also exposes the fact that this choice of business model, a “turning point in the [Home Insulation Program]”, was imposed on the then Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts (DEWHA) by forces close to then prime minister Kevin Rudd: the Office of the Coordinator-General (a role Rudd created to oversee the stimulus measures) and Senator Mark Arbib.

Former Labor attorney-general Mark Dreyfus is right to say that the A$20 million spent on the Royal Commission has not vastly altered the account of the insulation scheme that the previous eight inquiries had provided. The picture of a rushed program run by public servants with little understanding of the potential hazards of working in ceiling spaces was well-established.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott must also be lamenting the failure of the Royal Commission to confirm the multiple “direct personal warnings” that Coalition MPs had claimed were issued to Rudd and Environment Minister Peter Garrett.

A rush to outsource responsibility

However, the findings do raise profound lessons for government. The dominance of market-knows-best ideology among the senior public service and Labor ministers and their staffers was critical to the mistaken and deadly assumptions behind the insulation program’s design. Linked to this, the commission has highlighted the disastrous role of private consultants and particularly the program’s “external risk expert”, Minter Ellison’s Margaret Coaldrake. Underpinning all these problems was the lack of program delivery experience and capacity within the environment department.

The Hanger report is the first to identify the abrupt imposition of a new delivery model, two months into the planning process, as a “critical” decision (page 4), “indeed the cause of later failures by the Australian government” (p. 157). Until a meeting on 31 March 2009, environment department officials had planned to contract major regional firms for recruiting, training and supervising the new insulation installer workforce.

This “regional brokerage” model (similar to that administered by the states in the Building the Education Revolution school halls stimulus program) itself relied on outsourcing, albeit to experienced companies with “skin in the game”. But Minter Ellison’s first risk assessment found the department’s inexperience made it virtually impossible that the contracts would be signed off in time for the July 1 roll-out announced by Rudd. Minter Ellison’s suggested treatment for this and most other risks was to transfer “the largest risks to third parties (effective outsourcing)” (p. 117).

As Hanger notes, it was likely this risk report that informed the decision by the Office of the Coordinator-General (OCG) and Senator Arbib (p. 106) to push for a wholly new model for the home insulation program. The resulting “market-delivery” (p. 127) rebate model was unilaterally imposed on environment department officials without warning at a meeting that Hanger found was “structured to impose the OCG delivery model on DEWHA” (p. 136).

Letting the market rip

Rather than contract large companies to deliver the program, the government would provide a Medicare-administered rebate coupled with a low-barrier-to-entry online registration system. Market forces would do the rest. It was this recipe of funding and easy registration that drove the 15-fold increase in installations as the number of installation companies grew from 200 before the insulation program to 8,359 (p. 2).

As well as a zeal for meeting Rudd’s July 1 roll-out deadline, the OCG-Arbib model was “designed to allow market forces to work and deliver the most efficiency/effectiveness without providing a centralised solution” (p. 128). It would be a “light-touch regulatory model” (p. 131) that would “let the market operate with few restrictions” (p. 131).

The insulation program was constructed in response to the Global Financial Crisis, which Rudd and others categorised as a crisis of “neoliberalism”. And yet the public servants, and even Labor ministers involved in designing the scheme, were driven by the notion that public involvement should be minimised while, in the words of the public servants, they “let the market rip” (p. 144).

And rip it did. Every month that the program ran, a year’s worth of insulation activity was generated. The government orchestrated this situation and Hanger has found (p. 3) that the government was responsible for the results:

1.1.18 The reality is that the Australian Government conceived of, devised and implemented a program that enabled very large numbers of inexperienced workers – often engaged by unscrupulous and avaricious employers or head contractors, who were themselves inexperienced in insulation installation – to undertake potentially dangerous work. It should have done more to protect them.

The commission has found that even when government outsources work, “risk cannot be abrogated” (p.309). This has profound implications for the delivery of government programs by both sides of politics.

The delusion of outsourcing risk

As incredible as it may now seem, the public service saw the market-driven delivery model that relied on the ballooning of start-up companies as reducing the risk profile of the program. This can only be explained because the notion of risk that prevailed among program designers had nothing to do with the provision of a safe program.

Risk management was instead concerned to minimise the financial, political, legal and reputational risks to the Commonwealth. While shared across the insulation program management team, this concept of risk was embodied by the Minter Ellison risk expert Margaret Coaldrake. She told (p. 111) the commission:

The focus for the project was on risks to the Commonwealth and [the insulation program’s] implementation because the Commonwealth cannot manage a risk for someone else.

Hanger’s report sharply rejects Coaldrake’s understanding, saying (p. 119):

That view is flawed … The risk to the Commonwealth of the [Home Insulation Program] includes the risk to the safety of one of its citizens undertaking work as part of the program.

Until the death of Matthew Fuller, private sector experts contracted to assess risk did not even consider installer safety. AAP/Dave Hunt

Despite employing a “bevy” of risk experts, until the electrocution of 25-year-old insulation installer Matthew Fuller in October 2009, the risks facing installers were not mentioned in Minter Ellison’s 20-page central “Risk Register”. When questioned about this, Coaldrake told the commission that her role was merely facilitation and that no one in the department had informed her that workers could be injured as part of the program.

In fact, the commission uncovered evidence that injury to installers had been raised at an early DEWHA risk workshop. It was listed in early drafts of Coaldrake’s own risk register. However, between 10.54am and 12.05pm on 27 March 2009, this risk disappeared from the register, and neither Coaldrake nor any of the DEWHA staff redressed its omission during the crucial next six months of the program.

Governments have lost in-house expertise

Hanger finds that the Commonwealth did not have the in-house expertise to purchase and manage the “expert services” of Coaldrake (p. 312) whose role in the insulation program Hanger describes as “patently inadequate” (p. 5).

This finding echoes that of the Building the Education Revolution Implementation Taskforce, which found that state and territory education departments lacked the in-house skills and expertise to act as an “informed buyer” in dealing with the construction firms that delivered that program. Without in-house architects, planners and project managers, the government was open to accepting exorbitant management fees and unable to prevent sub-standard delivery.

Lack of public service capacity is the first point Hanger addresses in his lessons for the future. He notes (p. 301) that “the retention of outside experts did not always overcome the knowledge gaps that existed in the department”.

Hanger’s report paints a damning picture of the results of decades of outsourcing under the neo-liberal rubric of market efficiency and down-sizing. Unless public service capacity is rebuilt and the market-knows-best mentality inside the government replaced, it is only a matter of time before we repeat the mistakes of the home insulation program.


The HIP and the case of the missing risk

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 07/09/2014 - 4:50pm in

I really want to write more about the case of the missing risk – the one risk that should have been at the centre of concern for those planning the Home Insulation Program. The risk of injury and death to HIP workers and homeowners.

As became clear in the Royal Commission hearings, the possibility of injuries resulting from the scheme was initially part of the HIP Risk Register, but later fell out without comment or redress. To me this embodies the disconnect between the upper levels of the public service and government, and the reality of the work of implementing programs on the ground, that I argue is a symptom of outsourcing.

This is a snippet about the missing risk that I have included in a draft I’ve sent to The Conversation:

“Until the electrocution of 25-year old HIP worker Matthew Fuller in October 2009 the risks facing HIP installers were not even included in the 20-page central “Risk Register” drafted and administered by Coaldrake. When questioned about this Coaldrake told the Commission that she was merely a facilitator, and that no-one in DEWHA had ever told her workers could be injured as part of the program. This was not the case. The Commission uncovered the fact that injury to installers had been raised at an early DEWHA risk workshop. In fact this key risk had been listed in drafts of Coaldrake’s own risk register that were circulated between 13th and the 27th March 2009. But when it disappeared off the register between 10.54am and 12.05pm on the 27th neither Coaldrake nor any of the DEWHA staff noticed.”

But I think this issue could do with its own article…

Thinking Fondly of GUADEC

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 20/08/2014 - 12:25pm in



It’s been a really long time since I’ve blogged and Oliver Propst is here in New York and since I’ve been telling him about GUADEC I realized that instead I should write it all down!

Getting to GUADEC was very exciting for me as I finished my talk at OSCON and then ran straight to the airport in order to make my flight. Unfortunately this meant that I missed the first day of GUADEC in addition to the all day board meeting the day before. All of the travel was worth it when the bus pulled into the station in Strasbourg to find Rosanna and Sri waiting for me! We walked over to the bar gathering and it was fantastic to see everyone and catch up and I was immersed in GUADEC all over again.

It was really fun to be at GUADEC and definitely a different experience than as Executive Director. There were so many great talks that it was often hard to choose between the two tracks. I loved volunteering to help with sessions and felt pretty privileged to introduce two of the keynotes: Nate Willis and Matthew Garrett. Nate spoke about automotive software with the cool narrative of hacking his own car. I loved that he tied it all back to GNOME with practical recommendations for the community. Matthew gave an incredibly inspirational talk about GNOME and its future. I highly recommend watching the video when it comes out if you didn’t get a chance to see it in person. I think we’ll have a lot to talk about over the next year and a lot of work ahead of us too.

I spoke about what I learned as Executive Director of GNOME. It was nice to reflect over the years I spent in the role and also to provide some recommendations going forward. The GNOME community is exceptional and if we can prioritize attracting newcomers and communicating better about why we do what we do we’ll be unstoppable. I proposed that we have technical evangelists for GNOME so that we have the ability to appoint our most articulate and charismatic community members as representatives. I think the GNOME community needs to go to companies and talk to them about GNOME and help them with their GNOME usage (or potential GNOME usage). Happily two extraordinary people volunteered after my talk so we’ll see!

All of the board meetings were a bit grueling but I think good discussions were had. And the marketing hackfest was fun and productive as usual.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention all of the hard work of Alexandre and Natalie who made GUADEC run so smoothly, even in a venue that they had to scramble to arrange when the original venue fell though at the last minute. Happily, Alexandre was the winner of the coveted Pants Award this year, so we had multiple opportunities for our community to express our gratitude.

I also had a blast shining the bright light of truth on the Swedish Conspiracy. And I’m looking forward to GUADEC in Goethenburg too!

Thanks to the GNOME Foundation for sponsoring my travel!

New challenge

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 01/04/2014 - 2:34am in



Working as the GNOME Foundation Executive Director has been one of the highlights of my career. It has been a pleasure to work with many wonderful people, and we have made fantastic progress over the past
three years. GNOME is such an important, vibrant project, and I feel lucky to have been able to play a part in it.

I think I have made some important contributions to the project while I have been Executive Director. I’ve helped to recruit two new advisory board members, and we recently received a one time donation of considerable size (the donor did not want to be identified). Financially the Foundation is in good shape, and we have run the last three years in the black. We’ve held some successful funding campaigns, particularly around privacy and accessibility. We have a mind-blowingly fantastic Board of Directors, and the Engagement team is doing amazing work. The GNOME.Asia team is strong, and we’ve got an influx of people, more so than I’ve seen in some time.

I hope that I have helped us to get in touch with our values during my time as ED, and I think that GNOME is more aware of its guiding mission than ever before. The ongoing success of the Outreach Program for Women and positive relations with other organizations fighting for software freedom have all helped us to tell a powerful story about who we are and why we matter.

With all these achievements, I think it’s time for me to hand the reins over to someone new, who can bring their own personal strengths to the role. It is time for a new challenge for me also, so today I am announcing my new position as the Software Freedom Conservancy Executive Director. As many of you know, I have been volunteering with Conservancy for some time, since I helped found it when I was a lawyer at SFLC. I also can’t wait to work closer with Bradley, who has done a bang up job in the role of ED thus far (he’ll be taking on the title of Distinguished Technologist while remaining President and on the board). It is an important organization where I think I can make a difference, and GNOME is in good hands.

Don’t worry though: I’m not leaving GNOME. I will be announcing my candidacy for the board when the call comes out (this is a real exception for me as I’ve generally declined serving on boards). I will stay on as pro bono counsel, and of course I’ll continue volunteering in other ways. The Conservancy has also agreed to partner with GNOME, so that I can help to run the Outreach Program for Women with Marina.

I’m excited for the future. GNOME is already in great hands and I look forward to what the next Foundation Executive can bring to the table. If you know of someone who would be fantastic in this position please let the GNOME board know! I am incredibly proud of what we have achieved in the past three years, and can’t wait to see where we go next.


Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 24/01/2014 - 1:04am in



Acclaimed music photographer Andrew Catlin has an outstanding collection of photographs of a young Shane MacGowan and The Pogues. The collection opens with a brilliant note from a London members club politely requesting, “Dear Andy, I’d be grateful if you didn’t bring in again the guy who introduced himself as Shane MacGowan.”

Andrew’s photos of Shane and the band span nearly 10 years including the famous Devonshire pub (Camden Town) days, the first European tour, the original ‘Rum, Sodomy & The Lash’ gigs, the filming of ‘Fiesta’ and Shane’s solo ‘Church of the Holy Spook’ days. Enjoy!

Click here to view the full gallery on Andrew Catlin’s website.

The post ANDREW CATLIN PHOTOGRAPHS OF SHANE MACGOWAN appeared first on Shane MacGowan.