Beware Of The Shonky Operator


How much do you know about insulation? If your answer is, "Absolutely nothing, is it some kind of food?", you are not only honest, but probably qualified to become an accredited installer. In any event, your ignorance does not have to be a terminal condition, as I am, yet again, here to provide a public service by answering all your Frequently Asked Questions about insulation, an issue which seems to have drawn a bit of attention in recent days.

Q1: What is "insulation"? 
A: Insulation is a thing you put in your roof to get rid of greenhouse gases. Nobody really knows how it does this — probably with a big pump, or some kind of comprehensive tree-planting program — but it is incredibly effective. Scientists estimate that a fully insulated home can have the same effect on greenhouse emissions as taking three 4WDs off the road for 30 minutes a year.

Most insulation seems to take the form of "pink batts", which are enormous pink things you can stick up to make it cooler. Or warmer. Or something. You might ask, "Why not just use an air-conditioner?", but the beauty of pink batts is that, unlike an unwieldy, noisy air-conditioner, you can just put them in your roof and forget about them, like an old box of comic books or an unwanted child. In fact, if you do have an unwanted child, wrapping them in pink batts might be an elegant two-birds, one-stone solution.

Q2: What is so dangerous about insulation?
A: The danger of insulation, apart from the direct causal link to scrotal cancer that will not be uncovered for another 25 years, arises when "foil insulation" is used. To understand this, think about what happens when you put foil in the microwave. Foil insulation is very similar, except in this case, the "microwave" is your roof. The aptness of this analogy will become clear if you put a tub of Latina pasta sauce in your roof for a week or so. Now, imagine the effects of an exploding baked potato extrapolated to the scale of an entire roof. Terrifying, isn’t it? That, without going into too much scientific mumbo jumbo, is what we’re talking about.

Q3: Is my insulation going to kill me?
A: Almost certainly, yes. Consider the Thurston family of Kyabram, who decided to remove the insulation from their roof themselves, and were found 48 hours later, strangled. Also, there is evidence that Harold Holt had installed insulation mere hours before going swimming at Portsea.

Q4: Why is it all Peter Garrett’s fault?
A: It all comes down to the issue of ministerial responsibility, a bedrock of the "Westminster system". This is a system named after the famous Westminster Abbey, under which ministers who preside over unfortunate events are respectfully buried under the floor. As many of his political opponents have said in recent days, Garrett is a fine, decent, honourable man and it just kills them to have to call for his resignation — they can hardly see the dispatch box through the tears — but unfortunately ministerial responsibility means he must. The "buck stops with him" as Harry Truman might have said while vapourising some Japanese people.

The problem is that Garrett rushed the insulation rebate scheme out far too hastily with insufficient oversight and lax safety standards. For example, he waited 10 months before asking to see the report into the risks of the scheme. This in itself is not a hanging offence; after all, he was probably too polite to ask. That’s Garrett for you — manners personified.

But then there’s the matter of metal clips used to fasten insulation. He took far too long to ban these and scrutiny of the official regulations reveals that at no point did the Government make it clear to installers that metal can potentially conduct electricity. Without this vital piece of technical information, they were flying blind — it’s like asking someone to fly a plane without warning them that at some point they will find themselves airborne. You see how the dreadful errors of omission keep mounting.

Most of all, it’s a case of shonky operators. Garrett did not make allowance for these. When setting up the scheme, the Minister totally neglected to insert a clause specifying that operators should be non-shonky.

Furthermore, he did not make it clear that installers who completely ignored the rules would be in breach of the rules and this, of course, was like a red rag to a bull for the shonky operators. It’s a matter of psychology: shonky operators crave structure and boundaries. If Garrett had simply said, "This scheme is not for shonky operators," they would have respected that and sorted themselves out. But left to their own devices and completely unaware that gross violations of safety standards were not allowed, the shonky operators ran wild with their shonky ways. And thus, tragedy. All because of Peter Garrett and his fatal lack of anti-shonkiness.

I guess the more pertinent question is: why does Peter Garrett enjoy killing people so much?

It’s hard to say. You may remember him many years ago singing a song called "Beds Are Burning", during which he would dance about in maniacal delight as he fantasised about setting fire to people while they slept. Was it, in hindsight, wise for Kevin Rudd to appoint to a position of life-and-death responsibility a man with such a history of pyromania and homicidal urges? Perhaps not, but unfortunately there is nothing in the code of ministerial responsibility that actually prohibits psychopaths from being ministers (see also Ruddock, Philip) and so I guess we are stuck with Garrett until such time as we can catch him in the act.

Q5: What is the Government doing to fix this horrific situation?
A: Well, as Garrett has specified, after intensive consultation and the implementation of various processes and the establishment of comprehensive standards, the evidentiary conclusion reached through the process of consultative implementary process and intensive standardised comprehensiveness is that the scheme is a bit of a balls-up and so it has been cancelled forthwith, to be replaced in the near future with an alternative scheme under which, rather than giving the rebate to dodgy installers to electrify houses, it will be given to ordinary householders who can buy and install their own insulation, thereby dying with dignity. In the meantime, thousands of insulation installers will lose their jobs, thus satisfying the general public’s thirst for revenge in a classic "win-win" scenario.

Q6: What can I do to protect myself against the menace of insulation?
A: The important thing is not to panic. If there is insulation in the house, quickly and calmly make your way to the nearest available exit. If you are unable to, perhaps having been incapacitated by a pink batt, or because the door is blocked by foil, then try to barricade yourself in a cool, dry place like a pantry or fresh litter-tray and wait for help. Whatever you do, do not attempt to approach or reason with the insulation. Do not attempt to remove the insulation yourself as you may enrage it.

If you have any doubts about the best course of action, call Peter Garrett’s office and ask him to come around personally and check things out. He’ll be happy to do so and might even give you an autograph! Won’t that be a conversation starter at your next dinner party or insulation-related wake!

Q7: What does all this have to do with Tony Abbott’s sex life?
A: Absolutely nothing, but you probably don’t want that going on in your roof either.

Q8: How can I keep my house cool in summer?
A: How should I know? Open the fridge or something. Suck on an ice cube. Get naked.

The main thing is, you haven’t been electrocuted. And with Peter Garrett still around, that really puts you ahead of the game.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.