13 June 2010

Green Loans: my appearances on ABC Radio Adelaide last week

As some of you may be aware, I was on ABC Radio Adelaide last Wednesday, posing a question to Senator Penny Wong about what will become of the 5000 of us accredited Home Sustainability Assessors waiting for 600 remaining contracts in the Green Loans Program.

I got a few questions on the ABSA Forums about who it was that was calling in. You know it's been a long week when it takes you this long to copy and paste into your own blog.
"Yes, it was me on the radio this morning. A friend of mine (another uncontracted HSA) tipped me off that Senator Wong would be on the morning show, and I got up to call in. I couldn't find a transcript, but I'll try to recap what I remember.

I briefly mentioned my own situation and (ahem) that of thousands of others who really have no chance of a contract. Senator Wong mostly read out the same old claptrap that we've been hearing for months: we are waiting for reports to come out before we act, the government never promised you any work, and so on.

I mainly wanted to talk about the myth of the government's hiding behind language in the assessor's contract. Senator Wong wasn't too keen on that. Not only was the "no guarantee of work" clause in the contract probably intended for another purpose, but it doesn't actually affect those of us for whom the contracts never took effect. However, we didn't have enough time to get into that and the show moved on to answer other calls.

Matthew and David invited me to come back onto the show during the Soapbox, and took my details off-air to follow up. They also offered to pass a contact number onto Senator Wong's office if they wanted to contact me, which I was more than happy for them to do.

ABC called back as promised at around 11am. We talked a little about how we ended up with some 9500 applicants for only 5000 contracts and what to do about it. I dutifully mentioned the protest that some of us held in Canberra a week ago and the need for a plan to get the 4000+ superfluous trainees out of the Program. We spoke about this, and they seemed receptive of the problem, likening it to a few other government programs.

As well as offering to pass my details on to Senator Wong if her office were to follow up, ABC asked whether I would contact them in a few days, or sooner if DCCEE did try to contact me. (I doubt they will, although I did meet Senator Wong's Chief of Staff last week after the protest.) I'm more than happy to do this on Monday morning. I hope to give them a bit more background if that's the case; today's episode happened without a lot of planning.

Thanks to everyone who tuned in. My day had a whole shape to it after that. :) I've gotten good feedback so far, and I'll let you know if there is any follow-up."
Those of us who were in Canberra for the protest last Monday might remember the DCCEE officials who met with us that afternoon. One of them called me back the next morning to flesh out what Senator Wong and I didn't get a chance to discuss in detail yesterday. I've since been back on ABC to relay the "news" - such as it is - from the phone call:

"Following yesterday's radio appearance, I got a call this morning from DCCEE and talked to one of their Green Loans people. I got a chance to elaborate on the points that I didn't have time to make fully with Senator Wong, but I didn't glean any new information - although that doesn't mean it wasn't worth doing.

Firstly, we talked a little about the remaining contracts, and how to fit nearly 5000 people into 600 slots. DCCEE hasn't made this decision yet, and I don't really expect them to do so until (a) they actually have criteria for the remaining spots and (b) they have something to say to those of us who miss out. In the ABSA MMM here in Adelaide, Alison Carmichael mentioned that ABSA's suggestion was to concentrate on remote areas that are under-represented by existing contractors, which is an interesting idea.

Many of us have taken offence that the 600-odd recently-awarded contracts all went to companies. The government's official position is that these "specified personnel" were contracted due to legal obligations in the old version of the contracts for those subcontracted through a company. I don't have a copy of the old contract (or any contract for companies, for that matter), so I can't refer to exactly what they were talking about. DCCEE issued a new form in late March that closed this loophole, but they were obliged to award contracts to those subcontractors specified before that time.

DCCEE couldn't tell me exactly when they spoke to ABSA about this decision. If it was before the announcement was made, it wouldn't have been much before; for example, it may have been earlier on the same day, which would have provided ABSA with only enough time to get a media release together. If that's the case, it harks back to Mr Garrett's announcement on 19 February, which was only made available to ABSA with, at best, a couple of hours' notice.

Secondly, I wanted to talk about where this "no guarantee of work" language came from. As I alluded here yesterday, I believe this has stemmed from the language of the contract (Section 3.2 of the contract for individuals). However, since this can only apply to assessors for whom this contract is in effect, I believe it refers to the central booking system and that DEWHA/DCCEE cannot guarantee to provide assessors with a steady stream of work.

My argument is that this does not affect uncontracted assessors, who were still reliant on the promotion, by DEWHA and by training providers, of the availability of work through the scheme. As such, it comes back to which of DEWHA or ABSA was responsible for turning off the training tap - to which end ABSA has the advantage of having consistently maintained that it warned DEWHA as far back as August, and repeatedly in the following months, of a potential oversupply of trainees. (I know some people who would be able to provide me with more details of the efforts to promote the HSAS towards the end of last year.) Obviously, DCCEE and I don't really see this issue the same way, but I didn't really hear a good explanation of how or why this situation came about in the first place.

I was back on ABC Adelaide's Soapbox this morning relaying the news (or lack thereof). They asked whether there had been any decision made on who was in and who was out, as well as how long it might take to decide. I didn't have any specific news on either front, because the ball is still well and truly in DCCEE's court. I'll keep posting about any developments I hear about."
I sense that the pressure is mounting, but until the people who are starting to say the right things also start to do the right things, we'll all still have work to do.

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