5 February 2010 –

The Greens have attacked the government for its Green Home Loans scheme, but it appears the biggest sin is that the scheme has been too popular, in a feared re-run of the solar energy rebate program that last year was shelved after over-subscription.

The Greens Deputy Christine Milne said the scheme, expected to last to 2013, was likely to reach its 360,000 assessments target next month.

“The government has once again massively underestimated community enthusiasm to get behind action on climate change and the transformation to a low carbon economy and green jobs,” Ms Milne said.

“It is well past time the Prime Minister took his lead from the community instead of caving in to polluters and holding the community back.”

Ms Milne said she had written to the Auditor General asking for an immediate and comprehensive investigation into the “gross mismanagement of the Green Loans Scheme by Minister Peter Garrett and the Department of Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts.”

A spokesman for Mr Garrett said that Senator Milne’s request was a matter for the Auditor General.

“Demand for the Green Loans program has been significant, both for householders wanting to get their homes assessed as well as for people seeking to enter the market as sustainability assessors, right around the nation,” the spokesman said.

“Since the launch of the Green Loans program more than 205,000 households have already booked a sustainability assessment more than 142,000 of those have already been completed.”

The spokesman provided a detailed response to allegations, substantially included below.

Ms Milne said the department had failed to:

  • adhere to the promised 1000-2000 limit on the number of assessors
  • deliver on the promised online booking mechanism, and failure to provide or oversee the interim call centre booking process
  • administer the conditions the Federal Government placed on its own program regarding conflicts of interest
  • exercise quality control and due diligence in relation to the standard of training provided to prospective assessors,  and the quality of assessments provided to consumers;
  • implement an audit facility within the program; and
  • To avoid favouritism and discriminatory practises relating to access to work through the program.

Ms Milne said: “The Green Loans Scheme is an excellent idea that has turned into an utter debacle through gross mismanagement by Peter Garrett’s department.

“We Greens have been parliament’s strongest advocates for household energy efficiency upgrades and the Green Loans Scheme is based on a Greens’ 2007 election initiative.

“Whether because of incompetence, lack of interest or deliberate design, the Green Loans Scheme has now joined the rooftop solar program, the insulation roll-out and the Renewable Energy Target as strong programs gone badly wrong.

The spokeman responded to the following points:

Assessors

Green Loans assessors must be registered with ABSA before becoming eligible to be contracted to the Department.
Once an assessor achieves ABSA accreditation they may then contract with the Department and have the opportunity to undertake home sustainability assessments funded through the Green Loans program.

While the Government did not set a limit on the number of people who can contract to complete household assessments under the program, it has always been clear that the program’s budget would only cover up to 360,000 assessments.

Other current and planned programs, both at a state level and at a Commonwealth level, also offer opportunities for assessment businesses to leverage off government investments. The opportunity is also there for assessors to market their services beyond this program to the general public who have shown a strong interest in finding out how they can make their homes cleaner and greener.

This is an area of the economy with enormous opportunity for growth, particularly with new energy efficiency requirements also coming online soon for commercial buildings and in the residential buildings sector.

Failure to adhere to the promised 1000-2000 limit on the number of assessors

This is not correct – the Government did not limit the number of assessors operating under the Green Loans Program or provide guarantees regarding the number assessors who would be allowed to operate under the program.
From the outset of the Program – the decision to undertake training and seek accreditation has been a commercial decision made by individual assessors.

Failure to deliver on the promised online booking mechanism, and failure to provide or oversee the interim call centre booking process

Due to the rapid escalation of demand for assessments under the program, the Department has concentrated on increasing resources to the call centre booking service and providing an increasing level of advice and support to assessors.

On 11 January, the Department rolled out the first phase of the new online portal to help assessors access important resources, view and update bookings, and help to streamline invoicing.

Failure to administer the conditions the Federal Government placed on its own program regarding conflicts of interest; and favouritism and discriminatory practises relating to access to work through the program.

Fifty nine per cent of assessors are sole traders rather than companies. The Department supports assessors to promote their business by providing marketing advice and online resources, such as artwork for a promotional postcard, flyer and press ad, approved website content, and shell media release content.

In addition, the Department provides regular updates and information about program developments and low-cost marketing ideas.

All of this adds up to resources and business development opportunities that most other sole traders and small businesses do not have when setting up. Jobs are available to all assessors, whether they are individuals or part of a company.
Assessors are bound by the same terms and conditions as every other assessor working under the program.

There is no special treatment or exception in this regard.

Furthermore, all assessors are required to abide by the Assessor Code of Conduct including clear requirements that there is to be no on-selling or promotion of any other products or services during assessments.

Failure to exercise quality control and due diligence in relation to the standard of training provided to prospective assessors,  and the quality of assessments provided to consumers; and failure to implement an audit facility within the program

The Government uses the Association of Building Sustainability Assessors to accredit assessors under the Green Loans Program.

ABSA is required to confirm that assessors are suitably qualified and appropriately experienced before they are accredited to conduct assessments under the Green Loans Program.

Before becoming an assessor, a person must undertake the Professional Home Sustainability Assessment course.

Assessors must provide evidence of their qualifications and experience to ABSA prior to receiving accreditation.

The Government is very concerned by claims of inadequate training and has immediately inquired into these claims, including into the adequacy of ABSA’s accreditation process.

The department has a compliance and audit strategy in place and is currently conducting an audit of ABSA’s processes for accrediting assessors under the program.