SKY NEWS AM AGENDA
WEDNESDAY, 6 NOVEMBER 2019
SUBJECT: Audit into Government’s Regional Jobs and Investment Packages, Drought Stimulus Package, Labor Review.
ANNELISE NEILSEN: Joining us live from Melbourne now is the Shadow Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development, Catherine King. Catherine, thank you for your time. If we could start with this Auditor-General’s report. It had some scathing findings dropped during the Melbourne Cup yesterday afternoon. We’ve heard, Tanya Plibersek has already been a bit cynical about this. I’m sure you agree.
CATHERINE KING, SHADOW MINISTER FOR INFRASTRUCTURE, TRANSPORT AND REGIONAL DEVELOPMENT: Well, I think the timing was a bit unusual for it to be tabled, I think just an hour before the Melbourne Cup was run, I think shows that the Government probably didn’t really want much scrutiny on this Auditor-General’s report.
KIERAN GILBERT: Is there anything within it that you find fundamentally, you know, flagrant in terms of abuse of public money, or is it just normal Governments spending money as they see fit?
KING: I think a couple of things that really stand out for me. The first is, you know, this is obviously a Panel of Ministers who’ve made these decisions. There seems to be one project that the Department recommended as being ineligible and that that project has been funded. I think the Government needs to answer some questions about that. I understand that Governments do, you know, make decisions about these, it is a discretionary program, but when something is ineligible, that seems to me very unusual.
The other is that this is a program that went to private industry, it was about generating jobs, 10 regions were chosen, but if you look at the disparity of where projects then landed within regions. So if you look, for example, within the area, where the seats of Gilmore and Eden-Monaro are, the large majority of funding within that region, which was identified as in needing assistance to generate jobs. Of course, most of it went to a marginal Liberal seat, and the then held Labor seat that didn’t get the money. Geelong is exactly the same when you look at the spread of money in the seat of Corangamite versus Corio. Again, if you’re identifying the region that needs assistance with jobs, then it is the region that you should be looking at not just parts of the region.
So I think there’s some questions that the Government needs to answer about, you know, why is not all parts equal. I think some transparency around, you know, I don’t remember, there being a lot of advertising about businesses saying, look, you could apply this is what the process is around application, it seems as though the Government’s sort of tried to pick winners. And obviously, in some instances, it’s overridden Departmental advice, but also chosen projects that were not eligible for funding in the first place. That seems a bit strange to me.
NEILSEN: The Auditor General’s report also says that some of those instances where the funding was declined it was because they then went on to negotiate a deal where the businesses put up the same amount of money as the Government, surely that’s a good thing to stimulate the economy and also not be throwing good money after bad?
KING: Of course when there are projects, where, you want to make sure that there is good value for money and there’s a proper return on investment analysis done. I think the Auditor-General report has said a couple of things, there was a requirement for co-funding, but equally there were a number of instances where co-funding was negotiated or negotiated down. And again, what the Government then didn’t do was go and re-score that project against other eligible projects in the region to say, well why would you fund that one versus others? So, again, I think it’s just this lack of transparency in what was after all a $220 million program that was going to private industry. This is not money that’s going to councils for swimming pools or recreation facilities, this is going to private for-profit businesses, meant to generate jobs, and I think the Government needs to be more transparent about how that funding was allocated.
I think the other thing is that the Government, and the Auditor-General report says pretty clearly, the Government was unable to substantiate what the ongoing jobs of this investment were. And after all, if that is what the program is designed to do, is to generate ongoing jobs in a region, the fact that the Auditor-General is saying that the Government was unable to, in fact the Panel was unable to verify that what the ongoing jobs were I think you’ve got to ask some questions about it.
GILBERT: You are the Shadow Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development, with the Cabinet signing off on the next round of drought support, one of the things will be direct support for businesses to maintain employment in these towns and regions affected. Do you do welcome that in-principle, obviously, you haven’t seen the detail but as a principle? Is that something you welcome?
KING: Well, I’ve got some concerns, as a principle, I understand when you’re trying to generate jobs in regional communities, that sort of investment is certainly welcome and at times is necessary. Equally, investing in infrastructure projects in local communities, that also helps to get money into those communities and to generate jobs. But again, I go back to this issue around transparency of how this money is administered. And it seems, and also then what is the policy imperative behind it and how you actually making sure that you’re delivering what you promise.
If you look at a fund called the Drought Communities fund that’s also administered by the Regional Development Department. There’s some real issues with that, in the way in which the Government has you know, picked, so we had the example where two shires, one was saying it didn’t need the money, one was saying, well, we just fall short of the money. You’ve got projects that were being funded out of that, I had an example in South Australia where someone was saying he was desperate for work, help, desperate to even just do a you know, a work for the dole scheme or something that would help him actually stay, get some small income. But the project that he had in his own community in South Australia, the people who the contractors came from a town over an hour and a half away from where he was living, and he could not understand how is that generating local employment. We had things like toilet blocks at cemeteries funded, you know, the building itself might have generated local jobs, but I’m not sure how that would have, sort of, increased employment in the longer term. So you’ve really got to look at a proper analysis of how are these contributing to jobs? How is that investment helping stimulate the economy, and that’s why you need to have the Department making sure they do a proper analysis of the return on value for money for these particular projects.
NEILSEN: Now, we’re expecting the Labor review into the election last to come out tomorrow, there’s going to be quite an extensive report coming out, we do understand, what do you think the most important thing that needs to happen after this report comes out?
KING: Well, look, I haven’t seen it. And I’ll leave commentary until you know, tomorrow when we’ve had a look at it. I’m sure there’ll be lots of people analysing it. This is an important part of us understanding what happened in the election. Obviously my job as Shadow Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development, since the election, I have been spending every day focused on trying to hold the Government to account for the decisions that it is making. And I think that is really what you’ll see Labor people doing well and truly from, you know, the review on. It’s important that we do it. It’s important that we understand, but it’s also important to the millions of people who voted for us and are depending on Labor, to make sure that the Government is accountable, that we actually get on with our jobs and certainly that’s what my focus will be today and tomorrow after the review’s done.
GILBERT: Catherine King appreciate it. We’ll talk to you, soon.
KING: Really good to talk to Kieran and Annelise.