Senator MILNE (2.30 pm)-My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts, Senator Wong. It refers to the Green Loans Program, which was supposed to begin in January and eventually commenced in July. Can the minister confirm to the Senate that, in spite of 25,000 home sustainability assessments having been completed, three months into the program not one report necessary to secure a green loan from a lending institution has been approved by DEWHA? When can any of the 25,000 Australians waiting for a green loan expect to see the report that will facilitate the money?
Senator WONG-Senator Milne, I have information in relation to the Green Loans Program. Can I say first that obviously the Green Loans Program is one of a range of programs across government which are aimed at improving household energy efficiency and household water efficiency. A number of those are in Mr Garrett's portfolios, the most high profile of which is the Home Insulation Program, which is being rolled out as part of the government's stimulus package and will achieve a significant reduction in energy use. As part of this largest ever rollout of energy efficiency programs to Australian households the government has included its Green Loans Program. This provides sustainability assessments for an estimated 360,000 households free of charge and loans of up to $10,000 to an estimated 75,000 households through participating financial institutions, with no interest payments for four years. I am advised the program commenced with a national rollout as of 1 July 2009. Since the start of the program more than 17,300 householders have registered for an assessment through the website or the call centre, with 7,900 assessments completed already. I am advised that this includes 600 under the trial program. It is the case that this is an ambitious and unprecedented program. Its development has involved the building of key sustainability assessment tools and business support systems.
Senator MILNE-Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. The minister did not answer my question about why not one report has been generated from the 25,000 assessments. I wonder whether she can confirm that that is because the government-designed software running the online calculator used to generate the reports is inaccurate? When does the government expect that that software will be fixed so that accurate assessments can be made, reports can be generated and the first green loan offered-three months into the program, if not more?
Senator WONG-I believe that the senator is referring to the household assessment tool.
Senator Milne-I am.
Senator WONG-Thank you. It is the case that this has been available since the program commenced trials in May. I am also advised that it is in use by assessors right around the country to make calculations about household energy efficiency. I am also advised that the trial rollout did identify some issues that required some changes to be made to the operation of the calculator, including the reporting function. I understand that the updated calculator has been in place since mid-August. However, it is also the case that assessors have been able to use the calculator to undertake household assessments while the reporting function has been rectified. In terms of other progress, I can also indicate that partnerships deeds have been signed with 13 financial partners in the credit union and building- (Time expired)
Senator MILNE-Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Perhaps the minister could tell me when the calculator was rectified, because to date no reports have been issued. And can she tell me why many of the 800 assessors have not been paid within the 30-day agreed contract period, with some outstanding payments dating back to July? Why is the government not honouring the 30-day contract period for the assessors?
Senator WONG-In relation to the first part of the question, I indicated that the updated calculator had been in place since mid-August. In relation to the second question, I am advised that assessors who undertook assessments in July were asked to provide invoices for this work in early August. Many of the invoices had errors, and those were returned to assessors for amendments. In those cases, Minister Garrett's department has worked closely with assessors to ensure they understand the requirements for the provision of invoices, which is required for all payments made by the Commonwealth. According to my advice in those circumstances where invoices were correct, the payments have been made within 30 days, as required by Commonwealth payment policy.