ABC NEWSRADIO WITH GLEN BARTHOLOMEW
WEDNESDAY, 20 OCTOBER 2021
SUBJECTS: ANAO report on regional grants to major cities; Building Better Regions Fund rorts; National Integrity Commission.
GLEN BARTHOLOMEW, HOST: Catherine King joins us now. Good morning.
CATHERINE KING, SHADOW MINISTER FOR INFRASTRUCTURE, TRANSPORT AND REGIONAL DEVELOPMENT: Good morning Glen.
HOST: What do you make of what’s going on here?
KING: Well, I think what we do know is billions of dollars of money is sitting within the regional development portfolio that has, basically, it looks like it’s been rorted all over the place when it comes to things like the Building Better Regions Fund. And then here we see yesterday’s Australian National Audit report saying 27% of the funding for regional development grants has gone to the cities, yet you’ve got Barnaby Joyce in Question Time constantly saying that they’re for the regions. I think there’s a real mess in terms of the way in which regional development grants are being allocated: no competitive process, lack of transparency, lack of consistency, all of those things. I think there’s a real mess happening with these grants and it is billions of dollars of taxpayer money that we’re seeing, just basically shovelled out the door and in this instance shoved out the door to our major capital cities not the regions.
HOST: Do we have enough data yet? I saw a story that the Collingwood Football Club even getting one of these graphs, but it’s also about more than a quarter of these regional development grants going to postcodes in major cities, do we have much more detail than that?
KING: We don’t and it’s hard to unpick the analysis of Australian National Audit Office, we’ll have a chat to them about that, but I think that there are examples of grants under the Community Development Grants program that have gone to a large capital cities and I think, again, we’re not talking small amounts of money here, there are billions of dollars in regional grants programs from the Building Better Regions Fund all the way through to Community Development Grants, Jobs and Growth Funds, all sorts of things squirrelled away within the Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Department. There is just no transparency, there are funds sitting there that there is no application process, it’s just the government’s discretion that they’ll announce them. We’ve even had examples of Pauline Hanson announcing grants on behalf of the government up in Rockhampton out of some of these funds. Frankly, it’s really got beyond a joke and I think that now, you know, we see the National Party holding the country to ransom and holding the regions to ransom on climate change, something that is affecting us in regional Australia very heavily, and asking for more money. You just look at it and go, sure, that’s great that you want to put money into the regions, but A, put it into the regions, and B, be transparent about how you are allocating it.
HOST: The government has responded, the Finance Minister Simon Birmingham saying that these grants awarded to the major city postcodes don’t necessarily indicate that that’s where the money was spent. He says many grant applicants are organisations with a state-wide or national presence so therefore they might lodge these grant applications using a capital city address and that doesn’t necessarily reflect where the work or the community benefit will occur.
KING: Well, that just sounds like something they’ve made up on the run to respond to media inquiries.
HOST: It could be true?
KING: It could be, but it sounds to me as though they’re just trying to find out how do you justify something that’s unjustifiable. If you’ve got the Australian National Audit Office saying 27% of the regional development grants have gone to major capital cities, then, you know they’re just trying to look for an excuse. You look at projects like Collingwood Football Club, they’ve done swimming pools in the heart of Sydney and things like that. I think if the government wants to fund projects in the suburbs then it should say that’s what it is, it’s funding in the suburbs in our cities. Don’t dress it up as regional funding.
HOST: Your party has introduced an anti-rorting bill, but independent MP Helen Haynes says it kind of misses the point as it doesn’t require politicians to disclose when money is sent to marginal seats that are not their own. Would this be better addressed by the Federal integrity commission?
KING: Well, I think there are, there are two separate propositions here, but both go to the really important issue about transparency. We know that this government doesn’t like transparency. If you look at what it’s done with freedom of information and the way it’s acted in relation to its failure to introduce independent anti-corruption commission, and the way it’s dealt with National Cabinet secrecy, It does not like transparency or scrutiny on decision making. Nothing puts the brake on corruption like shining a spotlight on it and that’s what the Bill that Katy Gallagher has introduced in the Senate will do, basically put a requirement on Ministers that if you’re going to make a decision, then you make the decision contrary to the recommendations of the department, or one that benefits you electorally, then you actually have to be transparent about it and that’s what that Bill does. I think an independent anti-corruption commission, which Labor has long been in support of and has put principles down on the table, again, is exactly that. It’s to put a brake on people thinking about engaging in behaviour that is corrupt or thinking about engaging in behaviour that electorally advantages them, then they have to think twice about it because you have an ICAC in place, or you’ve got a Bill that Katy’s put forward in place. That does require a lot more transparency and a lot more thought on behalf of ministers. Frankly, the fact that it’s come to this, that we’re now seeing that there’s billions of dollars of taxpayer funds used to the electoral advantage particularly of the Liberal and National Party, and we have really got to a time when an ICAC is necessary and the Bill that the Labor Party has introduced is absolutely necessary.
HOST: You can’t quite establish from this ANAO report whether this has gone to the benefit of those parties, we’ll see what those postcards do reveal. Catherine King, thanks very much.
CATHERINE KING – TRANSCRIPT – RADIO INTERVIEW – ABC NEWSRADIO – WEDNESDAY, 20 OCTOBER 2021