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'Day of horror' when insulation is made free

By Cathy Alexander
06 Feb 2009 4:34 PM

CANBERRA, Feb 6 AAP - The federal government is preparing for a "day of horror" when two million people queue up for free ceiling insulation all at once.

There are also concerns the scheme could lead to profiteering or a flood of cheap imports.

The government plans to give free insulation worth up to $1,600 to all homeowners as part of its $42 billion bid to ward off a recession.

The industry is delighted, but raised concerns about the details at a round-table with Prime Minister Kevin Rudd on Friday.

Insulation Council of Australia and New Zealand chief executive Dennis D'Arcy wanted to know what would happen when the scheme started on July 1.

"I think the busiest day Telecom will have will be on the day this opens, because you've got two million people who want it to be done today," Mr D'Arcy told the round-table, held in parliament house.

Peter Ruz from Fletcher Insulation suggested managing demand by putting low-income households at the head of the queue while others waited.

"One of the biggest challenges is going to be managing the expectation," he said.

Mr Rudd agreed there could be long queues.

"Someone made a very good point before about Telstra's day of horror ... the government's day of horror," he said.

Mr Rudd joked the government would offer Environment Minister Peter Garrett's mobile number as the contact for the free insulation.

He said he expected the industry to work out a solution.

"Let's be blunt, we've done a pretty big thing for your particular manufacturers."

Mr Rudd also commented on the possibility of cheap imports flooding the market to take advantage of the stimulus package, which will increase the subsidy on solar hot water heaters.

Thousands of solar hot water heaters installed in Australia are made overseas.

"We have a deep distaste for any unnecessary imports, and are conscious of the possibility of dumping on Australian domestic markets by people around the world," Mr Rudd said.

Concerns were also raised about profiteering. Mr Rudd said the public would take a dim view of this and it should not happen.

The Australian Conservation Foundation asked why the stimulus package allowed households to get ceiling insulation or a solar hot water heater, but not both.

"It's like an S with two lines through it," Mr Rudd replied, in reference to a dollar sign.

Australian Council of Social Service chief executive Clare Martin had a question about the package giving a $1,000 rebate to landlords who installed insulation in their tenants' properties.

"How are you going to encourage landlords to do that, when they could just shrug their shoulders and say it's too hard," she said.

But while those at the round-table pointed to the potential pitfalls of the package's "green homes" initiatives, they strongly supported it, and applauded at the end of the round-table.