The former prime minister Kevin Rudd is suing the ABC over a report that claimed he was warned of “critical risks” of his government’s home insulation program before the deaths of four young installers in 2010.
The ABC reported on Wednesday that Rudd and the senior Labor MPs Julia Gillard, Wayne Swan and Lindsay Tanner were warned in a report to cabinet in 2009 that their national rollout of subsidised home insulation – part of an economic stimulus package – faced “critical risks”. The report emphasised it was unclear if “critical risks” referred to safety concerns.
The report was part of a series of the stories the ABC has dubbed the Cabinet Files, related to thousands of top-secret and highly classified cabinet documents found in two locked filing cabinets sold at an ex-government sale in Canberra.
On Wednesday the ABC reported that Rudd had told a royal commission into the home insulation program, in 2014, that the insulation program would have been delayed if cabinet had been warned of the safety risks.
“Right through until February 2010 … each of the monthly reports said that the Energy Efficiency program of the government was on track,” Rudd told the royal commission, as reported by the ABC.
Rudd was quoted in the ABC’s story rejecting any assertion that he was warned of the safety risks to installers, or failed to act on such warnings, before the deaths of the young men in 2010.
On Thursday Rudd issued another statement, saying he was suing the ABC. “The report by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) alleging I ignored warnings on risks to the safety of installers of home insulation is a lie,” his statement said.
“First, the cabinet document referred to by the ABC was given to and considered by the royal commission into the home insulation program by the Abbott government in 2014.
“Therefore, this is not a new document. Abbott gave all my government’s cabinet documents to the royal commission on the home insulation program, against the advice of the prime minister’s department and the Australian government solicitor. And having seen this document, and all other relevant cabinet papers, the royal commission concluded that there was no finding to be made against me, and in fact that while serving as prime minister ‘there was no warning given of the very many problems with the program (p.271 of the final report)’.
“Second, the risks referred to in the cabinet document used in the ABC report refer to financial and administrative risks to the program for the commonwealth, not safety risks to workers.
“The ABC was told of these facts before publication. For these reasons, legal proceedings against the Australian Broadcasting have now commenced.”
The Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet on Wednesday announced an urgent investigation into the leak. Almost all of the files are classified, some as “top secret” or “AUSTEO”, which means they are to be seen by Australian eyes only.
At 1am on Thursday, Asio officers entered the ABC offices in Canberra and Brisbane to secure the thousands of sensitive government cabinet documents.
The officers brought a safe to the public broadcaster’s bureaus at Parliament House and in Brisbane so the documents could be kept securely. The ABC still has access to the documents.
Australia news | The Guardian