‘Multi-Billion Dollar Scheme to Buy Votes’: Senate Inquiry to Examine Coalition’s Urban Congestion Fund | Infrastructure
The Senate has set up an investigation into the Coalition’s $4.8 billion urban congestion fund, including the role of the Prime Minister’s Office in the suburban parking lot controversy.
The upper house on Tuesday accepted a motion by the Greens to refer the matter to an inquiry following a scathing report by the auditor general on the $660 million parking fund which found the projects had been sorted out on the component by the government on the advice of the deputies and candidates of the Coalition.
Labor and the Greens have continued to sue the Government over harassment in fringe constituencies after revelations that the same staff member in the Prime Minister’s Office was implicated in both the sports rorts scandal and the selection of parking projects.
Former urban infrastructure minister Alan Tudge has claimed he was unaware of a ‘top 20 misfit’ document which the Auditor General found used to determine which MPs and candidates to solicit over the location of the proposed car parks.
Scott Morrison has so far refused to answer questions about his involvement – refusing to say whether he had seen the document but explaining that “the ministers”, Tudge and former infrastructure minister Michael McCormack, were responsible for project selection.
On Tuesday, a motion by Greens Sen. Janet Rice for an investigation by the Finance and Public Administration Credentials Committee was approved by the Senate, with no division called by the government to test support.
The survey will examine whether the Urban Congestion Fund “meets the highest standards of governance, performance and accountability in the spending of public funds”. The parliamentary inquiry will have a broader mandate than that of the Australian National Audit Office, allowing it to examine road projects in addition to parking lots.
The inquiry will also examine “the role of the offices of the minister(s), prime minister and deputy prime minister, and any external parties, in determining which projects to allocate funds and who would announce those projects.”
ANAO found that 77% of government-funded parking lots were in coalition-held constituencies and a further 10% in six non-coalition-held constituencies where the opinions of coalition candidates were surveyed.
Rice said in a statement that it appeared the Coalition had embarked on a “coordinated, systematic, multi-billion dollar plan to buy votes in the last election.” “Australian taxpayers deserve to know how their money has been spent,” she said.
Morrison defended the commuter parking fund last week, saying Australians were the “winners” of the scheme.
In Question Time on Monday, Morrison said “normal processes” had been followed, with the Expenditure Review Committee approving funding for projects selected by ministers.
On Tuesday, Labor MP Peta Murphy asked how Morrison could claim Australians were the winners given the Coalition had so far only delivered two of the 47 suburban car parks promised ahead of the 2019 election.
Urban Infrastructure Minister Paul Fletcher noted that the Government had committed additional funds to build a car park in Frankston in her electorate “as we recently discussed when she came to my office to raise this issue”.
Fletcher accused Labor of taking a ‘very confusing’ and ‘mystifying schizophrenic’ stance on suburban car parks because it had promised to fund a list of projects ahead of the last election, including 11 which the Coalition had also promised to build. “But our position is consistent, we continue to provide parking for commuters,” he said.
Fletcher cited Ferny Grove in Queensland as another parking site that had recently begun construction.
Federal court held a hearing on Tuesday in a bid by the Beechworth Lawn Tennis Club to compel the release of documents that could shed light on former sports minister Bridget McKenzie’s role in the sports infrastructure grant scheme. communities of $100 million.
In January 2020, ANAO found that the sports grant program had been biased toward target and marginal seats by a parallel evaluation process conducted in McKenzie’s office. McKenzie and the government deny any wrongdoing.
Beechworth is seeking correspondence between McKenzie and Sport Australia, hoping to prove that the agency improperly delegated its power to select grant recipients to the minister or acted at his direction.
Sport Australia resisted the request, arguing that only documents relating to the Beechworth grant approval are relevant. Sport Australia claims McKenzie applied for grants but did not give them final approval.
Judge David O’Callaghan reserved his decision on the documents.