Rueben Barnes
Rueben Barnes Supplied

Peter Garrett 'gutted' by death of Rockhampton teen

THE electrocution death of Rockhampton teenager Rueben Barnes, 16, not only devastated his family, it "gutted" then-Environment Minister Peter Garrett.

That was the evidence given at a Brisbane Royal Commission this morning.

Under questioning by Elizabeth Wilson, representing the late teenager's family, Mr Garrett was asked why more was not done by the government after the death of Brisbane's Matthew Fuller on October 14, 2009, before Mr Barnes' death a month later.

Mr Garrett is the latest senior Labor figure to front the examination into the Rudd Government's botched home insulation program that ran through 2009 and early 2010.

It caused up to 100 house fires and four deaths.

Mr Garrett said Mr Fuller's death focused the government on the safety of the program.

"I was gutted when that happened," he said.

This gutting was not enough for Mr Garrett or the government to consider halting the program.

Ms Wilson honed in on advice missives sent to installers suggesting they turn the power off before using "foil insulation".

By forcing installers to turn off the power under the policy, Mr Barnes may not have been killed, she said.

Mr Garrett said installers were told in advisory mail-outs to consider shutting off power before using metal staples or foil insulation.

He said the issue of mandating the rule may have been raised with him, but not in a way he would act on.

This is the house where Rueben Barnes died from an electric shock while installing insulation in an “electrically charged” wall cavity.
This is the house where Rueben Barnes died from an electric shock while installing insulation in an “electrically charged” wall cavity. Allan Reinikka

Mr Garrett said it was "perfectly clear" to installers both through advice and the media that turning off the power was a way to improve safety of workers.

Mr Garrett said had a bigger fuss been made by industry experts including Queensland's Electrical Safety Office on the need to turn off power, changes might have followed.

"I dare say that if the Electrical Safety Office had strongly referenced this issue and was joined by other parties in referencing this issue, I would have made a decision on this."

Ms Wilson described the ceiling where Mr Barnes died as a "death trap".

 Rueben Barnes’ coffin is marked with a pair of his skate shoes at his funeral service in Rockhampton.
Rueben Barnes’ coffin is marked with a pair of his skate shoes at his funeral service in Rockhampton. ALLAN REINIKKA AR

The teenager had just weeks of experience installing insulation, wore no safety equipment and the only supervision he received was from someone similarly inexperienced.

The death of Mr Barnes on November 18 was followed by a fatality on the outskirts of Sydney where Marcus Wilson suffered heat exhaustion while installing insulation.

In February the following year, Mitchell Sweeney would be electrocuted in far north Queensland.

Within weeks of this fourth death, the program was dumped.

Former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is expected to give evidence to the commission this afternoon


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