Barristers for Kevin Rudd and the Abbott Government, appearing before the Royal Commission into the former prime minister’s fatal home insulation scheme, spent more than an hour today arguing over whether a statement by Mr Rudd should be made public.
As a result, Mr Rudd’s highly-anticipated appearance before the royal commission has been postponed until tomorrow.
The former PM’s 31-page statement, which details discussions during the former ALP Government’s cabinet meetings, is considered cabinet-in-confidence and has been heavily redacted.
Mr Rudd is seeking to outline what occurred during those discussions, leading to speculation that he may lay the blame for the death of four workers during the scheme at the feet of other ministers.
The arguments put by Tom Howe QC, for the Commonwealth, to Commissioner Ian Hanger QC are in contrast to Prime Minister Tony Abbott ordering that Cabinet documents from the previous Labor administration be given to the royal commission, leading to complaints from the ALP that Mr Abbott had breached tradition.
Mr Rudd’s barrister, Bret Walker SC, called the heavily blacked out document “less than half of the truth” and “unprincipled and inappropriate”.
“It is quite unfair and wrong of the Commonwealth and executive to take a stance that says they can sponsor these allegations and they can stifle public answer to them,” Walker argued.
Mr Howe raised concerns that Mr Rudd’s unredacted evidence would undermine full and frank cabinet deliberations in the future, adding that waiving cabinet confidentiality was unprecedented. He sought a closed hearing for Mr Rudd’s evidence and then a review of the transcript before it was released.
But commissioner Hanger said he could not receive material confidentially.
Lawyers for the families of the men killed also argued for Rudd’s evidence to remain public so their clients were not excluded.
The Commissioner decided to not release Mr Rudd’s full statement at this point and will deliberate on the issue overnight as Mr Howes seeks further instruction on the Commonwealth’s position. Mr Hanger added that he was ultimately inclined to publish it.
The opening page of Mr Rudd’s statement:
— John Taylor (@JTQld) May 14, 2014
And an example of the rest of the statement:
— Marissa Calligeros (@marissa_sc) May 14, 2014
Earlier in the day former environment minister Peter Garrett gave evidence saying he was “gutted” when he learnt of Matthew Fuller’s death in 2009, but he had not been informed of the risks for home insulation workers by the public servants who advised him, but accepted that he bore “ultimate responsibility” for the program.
He said he took at advice from the department during the rollout, but did not trust all of the advice from the public service after the death and only recently discovered the details of the safety warnings given to the government in the lead up to the scheme.
Mr Garrett said safety was an “absolute priority” during the roll out.
Heated legal argument at one stage during Mr Garrett’s evidence led to the online feed to the royal commission being cut briefly.
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