From sporting fields to the streets and now to an ineligible LNP donor, the explosive list of Morrison Government rorts is growing at a rapid pace.
New evidence today from the Auditor-General reveals the Government gave almost $5 million to an LNP donor, Nolan Meats, despite Departmental advice stating it was ineligible and that at least 47 other proposals represented better value for money.
Nolan Meats, an abattoir in Gympie, received $4.98 million to expand its processing facilities from the Government’s $220 million Regional Jobs and Investment Program.
The grant to Nolan Meats was the largest in the Wide Bay Burnett region, representing over a quarter of $19.73 million allocated to 13 projects in the region.
The Audit Office confirmed that as Nolan Meats was ineligible the Department did not include it in its ranking of projects, yet the merit assessment undertaken after Ministers mysteriously intervened was so low that even if it had been included it would have ranked at just 48th out of 62 from the Wide Bay Burnett region.
The Auditor-General’s report into RJIP raised serious questions with the administration of the Wide Bay Burnett package, highlighting that 75 percent of recommended projects, including the top eight ranked applications, were rejected by Ministers.
Nolan Meats is a Registered Training Organisation, offering 10 courses from Certificate II to IV in meat processing, which rendered it clearly ineligible under the RJIP Guidelines developed by the Government.
On 10 November 2017, during the assessment process, Nolan Meats is recorded donating $3000 to the Liberal and National Party of Queensland.
Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack was one of three Coalition Ministers that rejected Departmental advice on both eligibility and merit and awarded $4.98 million to Nolan Meats.
The revelations come after McCormack last year defied a Senate Order for the Production of Documents, incorrectly claiming public interest immunity on privacy grounds despite the RJIP Guidelines clearly stating confidential information can be provided to the Parliament.
Other Members of the Panel included former Regional Development Minister Michael McVeigh, former Sports Minister Bridget McKenzie, and former Assistant Minister Senator James McGrath. While former Minister McVeigh was the Chair of the Ministerial Panel, McVeigh’s office recently told the Guardian that he “did not have any involvement in the Ministerial Panel’s decision about Nolan [Meats]”.
The Audit Office also confirmed no public servants were present at the Ministerial Panel meetings and that unlike similar regional programs, Ministers did not keep records of deliberations.
The hearing forms a part of the Joint Committee on Public Accounts and Audit’s inquiry into Auditor-General’s Reports 5, 12 and 23 of 2019-20 on Australian Research Council grants, the Regional Jobs and Investment Program, and the Community Sport Infrastructure Program.
Labor will continue to pursue these regional rorts with Ministers and the Departmental Secretary at Senate Estimates on Monday.
With Deputy Chair of the Joint Committee on Public Accounts and Audit, Julian Hill MP