07 May 2010

HSA delay - Volume Seven: the oncoming train

On Thursday, 6 May 2010 - nearly 11 weeks after the fact - DCCEE awarded a contract to work in the Green Loans Program.

Some other uncontracted Home Sustainability Assessors received news of theirs the next day, and were kind enough to share the news on the ABSA Forums. Good luck to them. But what's really going on here?

There have been no formal announcements made about the GLP since that of the infamous upheaval by Mr Garrett on 19 February. Senator Wong spoke on the Senate floor on her third day on the job, and she recently used a doorstop interview about the audit into the Program to deflect blame for the debacle onto assessors and (importantly) away from the government. And that's just about it.

One thing that came in under the radar is DCCEE's submission to the Senate Inquiry into the Program. It's a laughable read. Sure, it concedes that reports are taking ages to get to householders, but that only appears in disguise among the reasons why nobody was taking out the Green Loans themselves. It mentions problems with the booking system, but it makes no mention of the arrangement with Fieldforce. It mentions late payments, but it blames the assessors for lodging incorrect invoices. In short, DCCEE has made it abundantly clear that the government intends to take no responsibility whatsoever for the debacle.

Still, one revels so much whenever something is said that one forgets what isn't said. There's been no advance on the limit of 5000 contracts, nor has there been any word of how the remaining 1200 are being awarded. Unless these two have changed, there remain 4300 of us who won't get contracts; we won't know which of us will miss out, and we won't be told why.

On top of that, even by ABSA's own figures, also submitted to the Senate Inquiry, only 58% of the previous 3800 contracted HSAs have any intention of continuing their practice. The other 42%, or about 1600 members, would sooner give up altogether, and a surprising number already have. Even if things work out for 1200 newly-contracted HSAs, that leaves 3400 practising HSAs, versus 2500 who continue to wait for contracts, 1800 who are waiting even to join ABSA, and 200 who faltered at the first hurdle back in January. What happens to the 1600 contractors who have so far lost hope remains a mystery; there's been no indication that they would be released from their contracts.

Those of us either dissatisfied with the GLP or yet to be contracted find ourselves in something of a minority. Well, there are still more of us, but we are seen as a minority nonetheless. (As I've written before, basic arithmetic has hardly been a requirement thus far for those in charge of the Program.)

Senator Penny Wong has been conspicuously silent on the issue of uncontracted HSAs. Despite the increasingly vocal calls in March for compensation for those who would be left out of the GLP, the Minister has committed to them not one dollar of funds nor one minute of time. This is not to say that she isn't open to the idea of compensation, as long as she doesn't have to do anything to see it put into practice. However, she couldn't resist a cheap swipe at the assessors during her doorstop interview the other week - as if the odd rort is the only thing that's gone wrong. You can feel the contempt.

The upcoming national tour by the ABSA board is similarly uninspiring. Using the meetings to provide training that most of its members will never use, even if others think it overdue, takes a lot of gall, but charging for the privilege of hearing the board's strategic vision is simply an insult. (I'll be at the Adelaide meeting specifically to make it worth 25 bucks to attend - and no, I'm not staying for the training.) This week - well, for about 48 hours of it - ABSA conducted a survey of uncontracted HSAs. Compensation wasn't mentioned, nor was the possibility of members leaving the industry, if that's even technically possible without really taking part in the first place.

With little more than lip service coming from either ABSA or DCCEE, it's difficult to know where to turn for guidance. A number of organisations have sprung up to fill in the gaps, some of which have a great deal of lobbying potential. The unspoken truth, though, is that all of these organisations predicate their existence entirely upon the prosperous future of the industry; yet, none of them has a plan for those of us who don't fit, either to survive until such a future exists or to escape beforehand with any kind of equity or dignity.

So what's left?

Perhaps the last remaining organiser willing to stand up for uncontracted HSAs is Vicky Allen-Whiteman. A regular on both the ABSA Forums and the Household Sustainability Assessor Network page on Facebook, Vicky has created a Google Group called GLA Compensation, dedicated to this one specific issue. She is also co-ordinating a protest in Canberra on Monday, 24 May - and I intend to make the trip to join her. Even if you cannot do likewise, I would urge anyone disaffected by the GLP and/or hoping for compensation at least to join the Group. We always need numbers.

It is remarkable and unfortunate that we have had to resort to measures so drastic, but we simply cannot afford to let those bastards win. The government, rather than tackling the problems we face head-on, has enabled our money and our livelihoods to be stolen but stands idly by while we fight tooth and nail to get it back. Our professional body, fat and rich from our membership fees, does not see us as part of their future and treats us as second-class citizens. There's no reason that we should suffer this lightly.

But we can't fade quietly into the night. I can see those who are succeeding positioning themselves for the next phase, and I can't blame them for wanting to do so. What they don't realise, and don't want to realise, is that they move on not only without us but largely at our expense: the more success they enjoy, the less concern there will be for those of us left behind.

Please don't misconstrue that. I'm not saying that with any intention of holding back those who are looking forward. What I am saying, however, is that those of us who never got a chance must now band together with a similar level of vigour and urgency. We carry a burden, a weight on our shoulders, and we cannot be expected to tread lightly around this issue as if upon eggshells. We deserve our voices to be heard before they are forgotten.

This is a fight that we can and must win. More importantly, it is a fight that needs to be fought. We need each other now; soon enough, we may be all we have.

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