Like a pink batt out of hell, Garrett absorbs the heat

Environment Minister Peter Garrett's departmental officials grilled over safety concerns with home insulation program.

The security scanners at Parliament House, through which all visitors must pass, are emblazoned with the same name as the embattled Environment Minister: ''Garrett'' they say, in bright yellow.

It is appropriate that the portals of the nation's great house should share Peter Garrett's name at this time, when he has become the ritual sacrifice, no less than a Mayan virgin, on the altar of high stakes politics.

The very walls of Parliament seem to whisper his name. ''Garrett'' is on lips in the canteen, in the corridors, in the sun-drenched courtyards and in the cool committee room, 2S3, where the Environment Department's secretaries were being grilled yesterday morning over the failed home-insulation scheme the government was forced to suspend on Friday.

Will he stay or will he go, is what everyone wants to know.

The departmental secretary, Robyn Kruk, defended her minister: ''There is only one way of ensuring a risk-free environment [and that is] not to go into ceilings.''

Garrett laboured the same line later in question time.

''We take safety seriously … The construction of the risk-management program and framework under the home insulation program was particularly and specifically designed to that end.''

But the opposition wasn't buying. It wants a propitiatory offering from the government to pay for four deaths, 1000 electrified roofs, 93 house fires, and what it says are 160,000 dodgy installations.

The opposition's environment spokesman, Greg Hunt, named the four young installers whose deaths must be atoned for. The Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, called for Garrett's resignation as part of a censure motion. ''You show no remorse, no concern, no urgency about anything except saving your own hide … If the Minister had a shred of the conscience he so exemplified in his former life [he would be] probing his own soul.''

The Prime Minister was there but curiously detached, as if he had more important things on his mind - like fussing with the highlighted pages and plastic sleeves and ring-binders in front of him. He arranged them and rearranged them so it seemed in the end as if he were playing a ritualised form of solitaire.

When Garrett stood at the dispatch box to answer the barrage of questions from the opposition, amid catcalls of ''Roofgate'' and ''blah blah blah'', Rudd busied himself with a pink highlighter.

''This Prime Minister is more than likely … in this program up to his neck,'' Abbott said. But it was Garrett who was losing skin.

His long supple legs and elegant fingers might be those of an artist, but his voice, as it droned impassively throughout question time, making procedural point after procedural point, showed the heart of a bureaucrat. ''I acted on the basis of that advice and on the basis of that advice I put the measures in place which we rolled out in terms of delivering the home insulation program.'' He has learnt well from his boss.

The opposition wants his scalp. But Garrett is the government's human pink batt, insulating Rudd and his cabinet from the heat. For no other reason he's hanging on.

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