On the day the Morrison Government will finally announce its so-called drought stimulus package, its signature Drought Communities Program has been thrown into chaos with reports another council is considering opting out.
The Australian reports today that the Yorke Peninsula Council in South Australia is considering whether to forgo the money so it can be spent in on “more deserving” communities in other parts of the country, as “much of the region is not drought-affected”.
This follows the shocking bungle in Victoria where Moyne Shire on the South West of the State refused the money, while drought-affected Moira Shire in the state’s north was only declared eligible last week after a desperate plea from the Mayor and interrogation from Labor at Senate Estimates.
Meanwhile in NSW, the Federal Government refuses to examine the eligibility of the Singleton, Kiama, Shoalhaven, Eurobodalla and Yass councils.
There are examples including one in South Australia where a local was desperate for work, even for work for the dole, but the contractors on his local Drought Communities Program project were all from out of town, over an hour away. How is that supporting local jobs?
There are widespread concerns over the choice of projects by some local councils, with no answer from the Government on how upgrading toilet blocks at local cemeteries or updating town signs will create a single job in the long-term.
Over two weeks ago, Channel Nine reported the Morrison Government was going to review the Drought Communities Program. Did the review ever take place? If so, will it be released?
We know from the scathing Audit into the administration of the Regional Jobs and Investment Packages released less than an hour before the Melbourne Cup Race that Michael McCormack approved an ineligible application for funding, granted funding to five more applications that were received late, with no reasons recorded, and failed to verify the claims claims around ongoing jobs created by each grant.
Senate Estimates confirmed that only 14 per cent of the so-called “$7 billion drought package” is actually available for farmers and rural communities right now.
After the horror 36 hours for the Government’s credibility with regional Australians, Scott Morrison and his Ministers must answer the following questions today at their Press Conference:
- How will the drought stimulus package be fairly and transparently allocated?
- How will small and large infrastructure projects support local jobs now and drive sustainable jobs growth and drought mitigation in the long-term.
- What in this package is new spending? What funding is simply rebadged from existing programs and projects?
- When will funding roll out to drought-affected communities? What is the funding profile for each project?
- What are the guidelines for the $50 million discretionary fund for “those who fall outside the guidelines”? Is this simply a slush-fund for Nationals’ mates?
- Which communities and local councils will be eligible for the next round of the Drought Communities Program? What are the criteria? Will any or all of Yorke Peninsula, Moyne, Moira, Singleton, Kiama, Shoalhaven, Eurobodalla and Yass councils be eligible?
The Deputy Prime Minister must also stop shirking the scathing Audit and provide a full explanation of the Ministerial Panels’ approach.
Labor continues to offer to work with the Government in a bipartisan manner to support our farmers and rural communities who are suffering through this drought. We will examine the details of the announcement through the day.