Opinion pieces, speeches & transcripts

Transcript: Doorstop interview 6 August

August 06, 2021



SUBJECTS: Car park rorts; Vaccines; More lockdowns.

CATHERINE KING, SHADOW MINISTER FOR INFRASTRUCTURE, TRANSPORT AND REGIONAL DEVELOPMENT: First, both Andrew and I as Victorians do want to reach out to our home state and all the people in Victoria to say how sorry we are that you've had to go back into lockdown, but we know that you've got this, we've done it before. I know that businesses and parents having to home-school today, it is really tough. And it's tough for everybody who is in lockdown but we do want to reach out to our home state to say that our thoughts are definitely with you. 60% of Australians are in lockdown today and we've got 16% of the entire population vaccinated. We know that we are in these circumstances because the Prime Minister believed that vaccinations was not a race and that he abrogated responsibility for making sure we had a purpose built quarantine facility. Australia is almost dead last globally when it comes to the vaccine program. But there is one thing the Morrison Government hasn't got the wooden spoon for, and that's for rorting. Airport Rorts, Car park Rorts, Regional Rorts, Community Safety Rorts and Sports Rorts. And this week, we saw with the commuter car park rort. This was a program that before the election campaign and during the election campaign, the Prime Minister, ministers, candidates, MPs were all over. You've all got footage of them at car parks and train stations with all sorts of glossy brochures and television articles and all sorts of things. All over this scheme. Yet now, both the Prime Minister and Minister Tudge yesterday, and even Minister Fletcher, are all running a million miles from this program. We know this goes to the heart of the Prime Minister's Office. We know the Prime Minister personally signed off on 27 car parks the day before the government went into caretaker mode. We know there are multiple emails between the Prime Minister's Office and Minister Tudge's office about this program. We know there are nine spreadsheets, passing between the Prime Minister's Office and Minister Tudge's office. We know this because the Auditor General has told us so. We know that none of the projects that the Department recommended got funded at all. And we know, because this government has been so poor in its administration of public funds, it can't even deliver these projects today. Only two the 47 car parks so lauded by this government have actually been built.

The Prime Minister has some very serious questions to answer. We know that this rorting goes to the heart of the Prime Minister's Office and to the Prime Minister himself. No Australians are winners when you have got the Morrison Government who is so prepared to rort taxpayer funds in this way. I might just hand over to Andrew Giles for some comments.

ANDREW GILES, SHADOW MINISTER FOR CITIES AND URBAN INFRASTRUCTURE: Thanks very much, Catherine. Catherine has set out so clearly that there is something very, very rotten at the very centre of the Morrison Government and there are $660m million reasons why the Prime Minister must come clean. Anyone who saw his train wreck of a performance yesterday would see firstly that he's very, very uncomfortable talking about his responsibility for car park rorts and that there are many questions that he needs to answer. He can angrily deflect and dissemble all he wants but he can't hide from the facts, and some of the facts that we saw yesterday are very concerning for anyone who cares about our democracy, as well as the delivery and accountability for public funds. In particular we saw Minister Tudge in question time confirm what he had said the previous day, that he hadn't seen this mysterious list of 20 marginal seats that was the basis for project selection. We know from the audit report that there's only one other possibility, the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister must explain his role in this rort. He can't hide anymore. And the other thing that the Prime Minister needs to be held to account for, is the appalling arrogance he demonstrated yesterday. The contempt he shows for the people that he is supposed to lead. Now he may be winning a gold medal for rorting, but he doesn't qualify when it comes to standing up for the interests of Australian people. He said yesterday that Australians are winners from this project. Well, I'll ask him to come to South Morang in my electorate, where he promised a car park, and then cancelled. I ask him to come to either of the car park selections in the Dunkley electorate, where he cancelled them too. Or indeed at Balaclava, where we know it could never have been built yet it was promised to win votes before the election. The Prime Minister has got to stop using public money as an LNP slush fund. He's got a front up to you and to the Australian people and explain his responsibility for these shocking rorts.

JOURNALIST: If the Coalition's crime was to put money towards projects without any assessment of merit. Didn't Labor also commit the same crime?

KING: Well how desperate did we see the government yesterday, deciding they would refer to an audit report from 2014, decisions made over a decade ago, to try and deflect from the fact that 87% of this funding went to Liberal Party and target seats. Not only that, but that there was no process. It seems from these, that what they learned from sports rorts where at least people were able to apply and communities across the country did so, they learned not that, oh maybe we better actually have a proper process and be transparent, let's have no process at all. That's the problem with this program in particular. $660 million, which is part of in fact a $4.7 billion fund that you can bet your bottom dollar that they are sitting around now, talking about how they are going to use that $4.7 billion in the upcoming election, and that's what the problem.

JOURNALIST: Ms King, I wasn't referring to your time in government, I was actually referring to the your time just in 2019 because you also came up with a car park promise.

KING: There is a huge difference, a huge difference. And again, this government seems to not understand what is the difference between taxpayer funded money, a budgeted funds, this is a fund that was established in the budget and appropriated in 2018, versus what opposition parties might announce during election campaigns. Of course, we get that during election campaigns, political parties will come up with programs and funding announcements in electorates and they put that before the Australian people, and people vote either on that basis or a range of other policy issues. That's not what this is about. This isn't about election promises and an opposition party putting forward propositions in seats. This is about the Urban Congestion Fund and its component the Commuter Car Park Fund budgeted for and appropriated in the 2018 Budget. No transparency at all and treat it, not as though it is appropriated taxpayer funds, but that it is Liberal Party funds to do what they want with.

JOURNALIST: So, next election, I mean, we could be in another election in a few more months. What would you do differently? Will you have a little asterisk next to all of your promises to say "if there's merit"?

KING: The first thing we'll do is, well the thing we've already done is to two things to try and improve transparency and accountability in this country for tax payer funds. The first is we saw Senator Gallagher move a private member's bill in the Senate this week to force the production of letters that ministers might have to write to the Minister for Finance when they make decisions in their own electorates and when they make recommendations that are counter to what the department has recommended. At the moment, we wait almost 12 to 16 months before we even know that's occurred. The other is an independent anti-corruption commission. I think you know there's a reason the government has been so tardy with this and I suspect some of the rorting is part of that. It is so important that we actually have accountability and we have transparency about that. When it comes to election commitments, I know because I've done this previously, I think the other thing that is incredibly important, they all have to go through a merit based process post the election, they all have to go through value for money assessments, and the government needs to itself, say, whether its own community grants funding program whether they have done that.

JOURNALIST: So does that mean that your promises in the next election will be subject to an assessment of merit.

KING: Yes, absolutely. They always are. So we will have the caveat on every election announcement that we make within the portfolio that I have responsibility for, I will leave others to speak on theirs, but we will have a caveat that says very clearly that post the election, value for money assessment and an assessment on whether this project stacks up on the basis of the information we have had, we will ask the department to look at that, that every one of those election commitments we will ask the department to do that. As they should do.

JOURNALIST: Just on another matter. Do you think that the other states and territories vaccine should be pushed into Coronavirus hotspot areas?

KING: I think the fact that we are even having a talk about priority populations or some states versus others, is all because of the failure of this government. How stupid can you get? 18 months, you know, we all went through it, where we couldn't see family members in hospital, people couldn't see their dying relatives, we missed out on weddings, on family celebrations, our kids in Victoria, months and months of home-schooling, and it was really hard. It was so hard. We spent 18 months doing that, and how stupid, what a dill of a Prime Minister, to squander it. To just absolutely squander it, and say it's not a race, we're alright, we'll just let it all go and eventually we'll be okay. It is just gobsmacking, frankly, that he's done that and that's why we're having this conversation about should we move vaccines here, should we do that. There just isn't enough supply, that's the problem. He needs to do his job. He has spent more time focusing on how they can rort taxpayer money than he has on actually getting the vaccine roll out right.