Opinion pieces, speeches & transcripts

Transcript: Doorstop interview 4 August

August 04, 2021



SUBJECTS: Car park rorts; 20 Most Marginal seats list; Minister Tudge and Prime Minister's Office role in rorts scandal: Labor's anti-rorting legislation; Strength in Multicultural Communities

ANDREW GILES, SHADOW MINISTER FOR CITIES AND URBAN INFRASTRUCTURE: This morning we saw Alan Tudge run away from questions, well Minister Tudge can run, but he can't hide from accountability. Today was the first day in eight weeks that Minister Tudge, now the education minister fronted the media to answer questions, although he wasn't very keen to answer questions.

Of course, it's also the first time since he fronted since the damning Auditor General report into carpark rorts, the $660 million program. Overseen by Minister Tudge that has delivered almost nothing and treated this taxpayer money as LNP slush fund. Well Minister Tudge as he ran away said two things: firstly, he maintained the lie that projects had been selected on the basis on need. He knows this isn't true because he designed the program, he designed the program so there was no criteria to assess need. It's just a complete joke, and a farce that he can maintain this even now.

But he also said something even more concerning, he said he knew nothing about the list of the 20 Most Marginal seats we heard in evidence in the Senate Committee week before last, that determined the initial project selection - well if he didn't know about this list, there's only one person that could have known about this list, Mr. Morrison, the Prime Minister, because we know that through secret spreadsheets and maps exchanged between the Minister Tudge's office and the Prime Minister's office, and I note the Prime Minister's Office involvement included one of the staff who is also involved in the Sports Rorts saga.

We know that if Minister Tudge wasn't aware of this, then only one person was, it's time for Mr. Morrison to come clean and explain exactly what he knew about this rort and explain to the Australian people his role precisely. Australians deserve nothing less and while he goes about this, he should join Labor in committing to real national anti-corruption commission, so that these appalling rorts don't happen. My senior colleague Catherine King has more to say about this.

CATHERINE KING, SHADOW MINISTER FOR INFRASTRUCTURE, TRANSPORT AND REGIONAL DEVELOPMENT: Thanks very much Andrew. Well you know this is a scandal that's got everything in it. It's got rampant under delivery, it's got 20 marginal seats targeted, it's got spreadsheets being passed between the Prime Minister's Office and Minister Tudge, and now you've got Minister Tudge eight weeks gone missing from the media, out there running and hiding from good sensible questions about this.

This is an absolute scandal, a $660 million taxpayer budgeted for fund that was used to electorate advantage. That's what the Australian National Audit Office found, and it's why we need an independent anti-corruption commission in this country, and we need to make sure we get to the bottom of what has happened with this scandal. The Prime Minister needs to release these spreadsheets, so that we can see, and the parliament can scrutinise what has actually happened with this program.

What seems to the government seems to have learnt from its Sport Rorts scandal. It's not that this is not the way you should use taxpayer money, what the government seems to have learned is well let's have no processes at all. Let's undermine our democracy as far as we possibly can with the use of taxpayer funding in this way.

Now what's happened with this car park fund, because they've set it up in the way they did, they can't deliver.

We've got 47 car parks that were announced, largely in Liberal Party and targeted sites, they've delivered two. And the reason for that, the reason they've had to cancel five is because land wasn't available, because they haven't talked to local councils or state governments. there isn't train stations where they've announced car parks where there is actually no train station at all. And it's just the reason that we've got this rampant under delivery. This is a scandal. This is a government that needs to come clean with what it's actually done, and it needs to be answerable to the Australian people when it comes to the election as to why it thinks taxpayer funds are Liberal Party funds.

We're happy to take any questions.

JOURNALIST: Alan Tudge says he didn't know anything about a list of top 20 marginal electorates that the Audit Office mentioned. If he didn't know anything about that list of top 20 electorates, did you find anything in reports so far that indicate where that list of top 20 electorates was generated and who is responsible for it?

KING: Well, I think that is an excellent question, and it's one the Australian National Audit Office answered at Senate estimates when they said these top 20 list existed and that existed in spreadsheets. If Minister Tudge didn't know, the only other person to the Australian National Audit Office named is the Prime Minister's Office. So, the 20 marginal seats have either come from Minister Tudge. He says he knew nothing about them, well then it's the Prime Minister, the Prime Minister who has to answer why he thought this was OK, it goes right to the heart of its government, this particular scandal.

JOURNALIST: What does it say, not only this fund but the broader urban congestion fund, where we see 170 plus projects that were also funnelled into Liberal held seats and again delivery has been minimal?

KING: Again, well, you've been on the story for a while, an important story to highlight. A $4 billion dollar fund, which was deliberately set up with no process, no transparency about how you apply for this fund, it is just Government will decide and the government is deciding on the basis of the margin of the seat. We've got $2 billion that is sitting unspent in this fund, you can bet your bottom dollar that the government will use that fund in the upcoming election campaign in exactly the same way it has rorted this car park fund, and it's up to all of us, it's up to media, it is up to Parliament and it's up to the Australian people to tell this Prime Minister you can't get away with this, you can't continue to use Australian tax payers funds in this way. The Urban Congestion Fund is a scandal, I think there's a lot more to look at in those 177 projects?

JOURNALIST: Are there mechanisms that can be placed so funds in the future are not rorted?

KING: Well the first thing is you have to have an application process, that didn't happen. Katy Gallagher in the Senate, this afternoon, is in fact actually tabling some legislation to force the production of documents when a minister makes a decision against recommendations of the department, forces them to be tabled in the Parliament. And I think those sorts of measures are really important to make ministers accountable for the decisions that they take. At the end of the day I think an independent corruption commission is the most important mechanisms we can have to try and make sure ministers are held to account. That's why the Morrison Government has been so keen to avoid establishing one in the first place because it doesn't want to be held accountable for these decisions. And at the end of the day, the election, and the Australia people is probably the best thing we can possibly have to send this government a message, that corruption won't be stood for and that this government has had its day.

JOURNALIST: A number of these more scathing Auditor General reports recently have all been about infrastructure, is there a deeper issue with the infrastructure department?

KING: I think there is a deep issue with the way in which this government uses taxpayers funds. If you look at the regional jobs investment program, the audit office report into that. If you look the audit offices is looking into the Building Better Regions funds, we're about to see round five of that fund announced, and I hope that there's some scrutiny on where the seats are and where that that money goes to. There is a major problem with the way in which this government uses any discretionary grants scheme. They have now taken rorting to an industrial scale, whether it was Sports Rorts, the community safety rorts, whether it's this pork and ride scheme, or the Urban Congestion Fund, and all the regional grants programs. This is how they now think you use taxpayer funded money. Use it to win an election, use it to win marginal seats and frankly the rest of the country. JOURNALIST: Can you change the process at all, in what way will Labor allocate grants?

KING: The first thing we'd absolutely do is make sure that you've got a transparent process, you actually have guidelines, this program, this car park rorts program, didn't have any guidelines, it didn't even have an application process, there was no consultation between state governments and local councils at all. The first thing is you actually have a process, and you'll be accountable for that process and you be transparent about that process. That's the first thing you need to do.

JOURNALIST: Can you be categorically say though that when you're Government and do exactly the same thing and that you just use those applications as a box ticking process to effectively cover up buying electorates?

KING: Absolutely, absolutely, I can categorically stand by the way in which we allocated funds for when we were in government, you know yes there were circumstances where we funded programs differently to what was recommended, but we were accountable for every single one of those, and I'm very happy to put our record in relation to the distribution of funds, when you look at things like the local community infrastructure program overseen by the Leader of the Opposition when he was Minister, every single Council in this country got funds that were invested in our communities, equitably across the country in projects that were really transformative to those communities. They're the sort of things that we need to do, particularly what we need to stimulate the economy. We don't need this continued rorting of programs, which is now frankly gone to an industrial scale.

JOURNALIST: Can you also guarantee going to the next election, that you won't be using taxpayers money to specifically target projects on mass in Labor seats?

KING: Certainly, in terms of election announcements we will be making sure that there is a reasonable for distribution for those, as well as when we're in government. I feel really passionately about our regional communities in particular, particularly distressing to me when I see time and time again billions of dollars being pulled into regional communities and some missing out entirely. That's what we have seen under this Government all over the place. There are many communities in Labor urban seats that are suffering from urban congestion, yet they have no opportunity to actually be able to bid and put forward projects in any of these areas. It's not just eastern suburb seats in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane that have congestion, government funds should be spent fairly, certainly not what we saw. I'll get Andrew to talk a bit more about that.

GILES: Thanks, Catherine. One thing that we know, anyone who represents suburban seat we know how challenging it is balance life so you can get to work on time. That's why this was such a powerful promise that the government made and then broke to suburban communities because when you have one or two options of getting work. finding a car park is absolutely imperative. It is difference between a good day and a very bad day. It is absolutely appalling that people around the country that commuters and communities didn't have the same opportunity to make their case, that didn't have regard to infrastructure Australia's evidence about where there is urban congestion. This is something that really matters and I think it's also important on the day that the Auditor General handed this report ,Josh Frydenberg delivered the Intergeneration report, that spoke about the importance of productive infrastructure investment to maintain our living standards. Well I'll tell you how you don't maintain living standards - it's through rorting infrastructure, rorting $4.8 billion in the urban congestion fund. And the last point, in terms of our credibility and Catherine's touched on our record versus the present government. We have put really big markers going to our credibility. Firstly, our absolute commitment to the national anti-corruption commission with teeth. And secondly, Senator Gallagher's Bill requiring the tabling of evidence where a decision was made against the department advice, with these things in place, we wouldn't be seeing these shocking rorts. We wouldn't be seeing taxpayers money being used as a ATM by the LNP.

JOURNALIST: Andrew can I just ask a question in your role as Shadow Multicultural Affairs Minister, in the latest COVID vaccine plan from the Government, they have listed, the idea of using places of worship to vaccinate people, reaching out to communities that might be a little bit concerned about vaccine process, do think that could see a reduction hesitancy, do you think that is a good idea and worth pursuing?

GILES: I think it is, one of the things this Government has been slow to act on is to recognise the great strengths in our multicultural communities and I've seen that first hand in the communities I represent and going around the country, as faith leaders and community leaders act on their own behalf to make sure issues within their communities were addressed. We saw great strength on display in Melbourne last year, there are untapped resources around Australia that should be looked into. One of the great problems we have here is that we haven't seen enough listening to the voices of multicultural Australia, any further step that is done by this Government is a step that I would welcome. Thanks very much, everyone.