Kevin Rudd and Peter Garrett may be called to witness box at insulation program inquiry

To those listening close enough, it might have sounded like a thinly veiled threat.

As the royal commission on the first Rudd government's Home Insulation Program began on Monday, its counsel assisting noted there was an ''armoury of coercive powers'' available to force reluctant witnesses to give evidence.

But, Keith Wilson, QC, added he was hopeful such force would not be necessary.

It may have been the biggest clue yet that former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and then environment minister Peter Garrett are destined for a stint in the witness box, willingly or otherwise.

Since the $25 million royal commission on the $2 billion-plus scheme was announced by the Abbott government last month, speculation has been rife about who would be called, but neither commissioner Ian Hanger, QC, nor Mr Wilson would name any of the parties who have been issued notices to appear.

The names on the list will not be publicly available until closer to the hearing dates, which are expected to be held across March and April.

The royal commission can summon a witness to appear before it and there are very few grounds on which a person can refuse. Failure to comply could result in either a fine or imprisonment.

Mr Rudd launched the scheme in 2009 as a way of staving off the global financial crisis.

Three Queenslanders and one New South Welshman were killed while installing insulation during the life of the program and many more were injured. Up to 220 house fires have been blamed on poorly trained installers operating while the scheme was in place and established insulation businesses suffered financial losses.

Mr Rudd apologised for the deaths in July this year, following findings from the Queensland state coroner that the rushed rollout of the program had contributed to the deaths of 25-year-old Matthew Fuller, 16-year-old Rueben Barnes and 22-year-old Mitchell Sweeney between October 2009 and February 2010.

Marcus Wilson, 22, was also killed.

Commissioner Hanger has been asked by the Commonwealth to ''focus on how the actions of the [Rudd] Australian government may have contributed to those deaths, injuries and financial loss and damage to businesses''.

Mr Hanger opened the commission in Brisbane, acknowledging a ''number of inquiries'' had previously been held into ''various aspects of the home insulation program'', which ranged from ''administrative reviews of government processes, to coronial inquests into the deaths of four young men''.

''My present intention is not to repeat the examination and findings of those inquiries … I will undertake a thorough inquiry, to collate and examine the existing evidence and to fill in the many gaps in that evidence,'' he said.

Matthew's father, Kevin Fuller, said he was only interested in the answers the commission could provide, and not political finger pointing.

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