Labor frontbencher Kim Carr has hit out at the Coalition-ordered royal commission into Labor's home insulation program, describing the Abbott government as ''quietly vicious'' and ''vindictive''.
He also said it would be a breach of Westminster principles if cabinet papers were revealed during the inquiry.
Former prime ministers Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard and five Labor ministers have been summoned to be ready to appear before the commission. The ministers have been served notice they should surrender any documents in their possession relating to the home insulation program, in which four men died, before it was stopped.
Senator Carr - who was a minister during the Labor years but has not been invited to give evidence - told Fairfax Radio on Tuesday that his party would co-operate fully with the commission, but noted there had already been several other inquiries.
He argued that other inquiries have found that occupational health and safety issues around the scheme were mostly matters for state government.
''This is a government that's very vindictive,'' Senator Carr said.
''It's quietly vicious ... in the approach that it takes to politics in this country.''
Summonses have also been sent to a number of government departments and to consultants engaged to advise on risk management aspects of the program.
Senior public servants associated with running the scheme, including Treasury secretary Martin Parkinson, who then headed the Department of Climate Change, may also be subpoenaed, according to informed sources.
The high-stakes move by the Royal Commission has put it on a potential collision course with the principle that governments do not get access to either the cabinet papers or the in-camera deliberations of their predecessors in office.
When asked it if was worrying that cabinet papers, which are kept confidential for 20 to 30 years, would be revealed by the commission, Senator Carr it would be a ''fundamental breach of the Westminster principles of government''.
Cabinet deliberations are kept confidential to allow ministers to have a full and frank discussion in the meeting room.
But a lawyer for one of the young men who was electrocuted and died during the scheme says calling the high profile witnesses was a welcome step.
Bill Potts, who is advocating on behalf of the father of Reuben Barnes, said that his client ''simply wants to know what happened. He's not interested in a witch hunt nor a blame game''.
''He wants the people who made the decisions and the people who informed the making of those decisions to come forth, to give evidence and to give their explanations of what happened,'' Mr Potts told Fairfax Radio.
''What he wants at the bottom line is for no other father to face the death of a very much loved son.''
Labor sources have confirmed that summonses have been sent to then prime minister Mr Rudd, his deputy at the time Ms Gillard, his finance minister Lindsay Tanner, his environment minister Peter Garrett, climate change minister Greg Combet, and the assistant minister charged with co-ordinating government stimulus spending programs, Mark Arbib.
Spokespeople for Mr Rudd and Ms Gillard said on Tuesday that neither would be commenting on the royal commission.
Privately, there is scepticism within the ALP over the real reason for the inquiry into the program, which has already been examined by the former Defence Department secretary Allan Hawke, the Australian National Audit Office and inquests in NSW and Queensland.
Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus has sent a letter to the Coalition saying the issue of improving workplace safety "should not be politicised" through a royal commission into home insulation program.
''We expect that the announced royal commission will be conducted for the purpose of improving workplace safety rather than for any partisan political purpose,'' Mr Dreyfus wrote.