WEDNESDAY, 7 APRIL 2021
SUBJECT: Government’s regional rorts.
PAUL CULLIVER, HOST: I’m speaking with the Shadow Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development. Good morning to you Catherine King.
CATHERINE KING, SHADOW MINISTER FOR INFRASTRUCTURE, TRANSPORT AND REGIONAL DEVELOPMENT: Good morning.
CULLIVER: First of all, how much responsibility should ministers have for choosing how these grants are decided?
KING: Well I think Ministers continue to be responsible, ultimately, for grant decisions they also need to be ultimately responsible for transparency about all those decisions as well. I think that, you know, where they are not funding projects that are clearly recommended by the Department and we’re now seeing it’s on a huge scale – you know for 112 projects out of this round that were not recommended. It’s not just a few here and there because there are other funding pools or there’s not enough state funding. This is over a third. This is the round that was just before the 2019 election. 94% of the projects and funding actually went to coalition held or targeted seats so it’s a big whack of the money. I think now this is really the use of taxpayer funded money, money that needs to be going to regions across the community now just being completely used for election purposes.
CULLIVER: How do you achieve that accountability, that transparency?
KING: Well I think the first thing is to actually say, you know, why are you making these decisions? Not just to say “no, I’ve decided I don’t agree with the Department’s decision,” actually going out there and doing it. But also, actually being much clearer about much clearer about whether you’ve got a different set of guidelines that no one else knows about with this secret panel of ministers, then, you know, be transparent about those guidelines. If one of those guidelines is that you must be in a seat that the Liberal or National party hold, or that we’re targeting in an election campaign, well then be transparent about it say it. And people who, those hundreds of councils, millions of hours across the country, of people putting in grant applications hoping that they’re going to have a fair go at it won’t apply because they know now that frankly one of the eligibility criteria is that you must be in a seat that the Liberal Party wants to hold, or that the National Party is targeting an election campaign. That’s the criteria they’re using, and it’s pretty clear that that’s the criteria they are using, then they should be transparent about it and say it, rather than just trying to pretend that that’s not what they’re doing.
CULLIVER: A big factor of this story of course is the timing, I understand that the grant recipient funding was announced in March of 2019 as we know the federal election was in May, should we look at timing of announcement should there be some kind of moratorium on funding announcements prior to an election.
KING: I think that they should be governments that don’t rort public funding this way. It’s not just this, and not just that you know election timing is pretty egregious and makes this absolutely apparent
CULLIVER: But should there be a rule about that?
KING: Well there certainly should be a rule about ministers not rorting taxpayer funding in a way that they are doing it in the lead up to an election or in between elections. We’ve seen it with the community sports fund with sports rorts, we’ve seen it with the safety grants with Minister Dutton, making announcements of grants before the applications had even been opened – we’ve seen that occur. We’ve seen programs such as the Community Development Grants Program where noone has been able to apply for these grants its just suddenly been announced mid-election campaign that there’s going to be big amounts of money. I think we even had Pauline Hanson announcing one of them up your way! You’re seeing this on a grand scale now where the government just absolutely thinks its got no accountability, its going to use this funding in a way that electorally advantages it. It doesn’t seem to care about any accountability, any transparency, and certainly not communities where this funding hasn’t gone.
CULLIVER: Of course, I suppose, the irony of this is that for Rockhampton, they were the beneficiaries of this fund $10 million to the Rockhampton Museum of Art and of course, as I said we do not know whether that was a recommended project or not within the Department, but obviously that was there on the table in the lead up to Michelle Landry getting her reelection. I suppose to voters in Capricornia they might go, “Well, hey, it might be pork barreling, maybe it is maybe it’s not, but we win out here.”
KING: That’s something that I understand the government is trying to do. Basically say, you know, here are the seats and the regions that are targeted by us, and when you’re the beneficiary of that, when you do get a grant, that’s great for that community and it may well be very needed in that community, but there are hundreds of regional towns regional towns that have been doing it tough, not only with drought bushfires, floods, a whole raft of other issues, or economies are collapsing with manufacturing disappearing have not had a single look-in on this grant rounds at all, or if they have it’s been $20,000 here or there for a community event, which again is important, but what we’ve seen from this government is absolutely industrial scale rorting of taxpayers’ funding in order to benefit itself electorally and it has got to stop.
CULLIVER: I mean, if it’s possible, this is the thing, if it’s possible on whatever grant scheme it is, does it mean we need legislative change? What’s actually going to stop, you know, you if you get into government or any future politician from doing it, if it is within the rules?
KING: Greater transparency I think is absolutely important. To have a secret panel of ministers, making decisions against recommendations by the Department, where the only accountability the Government has is to write a letter to the Department of Finance to say “I haven’t funded 112 – I mean, this is not just a couple of projects
CULLIVER: But I mean transparency is optional for politicians, if you’re not reliant on it, well then how do you make it not optional?
KING: Well one of the things is to continue to shine a light on these issues and make ministers accountable for decisions. So I would call on the government today, to actually release all of the projects that applied for funding, and what were the list of projects that were recommended for funding that this Government didn’t fund. There’s 112 that were not recommended – the Minister I understand has said he’s going to tell us which ones were not recommended, and actually tell us what those 112 are. He needs to be accountable for both. He needs to explain why, with every one of those 112 decisions, this secret Ministerial panel thought these projects were more worthy than others in regional communities. That’s what he needs to do today if we’re going to have any faith at all in his decision making. This is rorting on an industrial scale. We are seeing it with program after program, billions of dollars of taxpayer funding being used for electoral advantage by the Liberal and National Parties. And frankly, I think it is time the government took a long hard look at what it’s actually doing for regional Australia and it is certainly not benefiting a large proportion of the regions across this country.
CULLIVER: Catherine King, thanks for your time today.
KING: Good to talk to you.
CULLIVER: Catherine King, she’s the Shadow Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development. As I mentioned, we did reach out to Michelle Landry today she was the LNP member for Capricornia. She doesn’t have time.
CATHERINE KING – TRANSCRIPT – RADIO INTERVIEW – ABC CAPRICORNIA – WEDNESDAY, 7 APRIL 2021