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Thursday, 11 October 2012
Page: 8081


Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (18:58): I move:

That the Senate take note of the report.

This is a performance audit on the design and conduct of the first application round of the Regional Australia Development Fund. I will not keep the Senate too long; again, I simply urge senators to have a look at the Auditor-General's report No. 3.

I want to direct the attention of the Senate to paragraph 39 of the shortened version of the audit report that the Audit Office conveniently puts out. Paragraph 39 is in relation to grants made by Regional Development Australia. I should perhaps by way of explanation remind senators and those listening that the Labor government have a fund with which they support projects supposedly in regional Australia. It is not part of my comments today, but many senators and those listening will remember that the Labor Party's definition of regional Australia includes the Perth airport. I love Perth and I am pleased that the airport got some funding from the Labor government. But how can anyone say that a fund established to assist regional Australia could be spent at the Perth airport? It simply shows that this program of the Labor Party, like many of the so-called initiatives they bring, is just fraudulent and nothing to do with regional Australia. They are about supporting Labor Party mates, supporting Labor Party electorates and supporting Labor Party members who are enjoying—I can assure them—their very last term in this parliament.

Before I come to paragraph 39, I remind senators that of the electorates of this parliament in regional Australia nearly all of them are held by members of either the Liberal Party or the Nationals. A couple of seats that would normally be held by Liberal Party or Nationals members are currently held by Independents but, again, that is a pretty short-term program. Those members in those seats that claim now to be Independent were elected because they were perceived to have—and in fact had—very close associations with the Nationals in the past.

Senator Farrell: They saw the light.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Let me restrain myself from saying what the light might be. What is the light? They saw the most dysfunctional government that this nation has ever seen, and, if I might say, not only dysfunctional but morally and, others might say more widely, corrupt. In the minister's words, the Independents involved did respond to inducements to support the Labor Party and the current Prime Minister—the Prime Minister who was elected on the basis of a lie. Perhaps they did get something out of it. I notice they seem to chair quite a lot of committees. That is good stuff; we all do that. They seem to chair more than their fair share of committees. Of course it pays fairly handsomely to chair a committee. Maybe Senator Farrell was correct when he said 'they saw the light'. Perhaps the light was burning a hole in their pockets. I am not quite sure if the minister at the table was making that suggestion.

I return to paragraph 39 which says:

In terms of electoral distribution, applications for projects located in an electorate held by the ALP were more successful. That is, projects located in ALP-held electorates had an approval rate of 22 per cent, compared with the approval rate of 14 per cent for projects located in an electorate held by the Coalition parties …

That is a bit surprising when most electorates in rural and regional Australia are represented by members of the Liberal Party or the Nationals, yet those few regional electorates held by ALP members at the present time—I emphasise 'at the present time'—seem to get additional or preferential funding.

In this booklet is a case where the minister ignored the advice of the advisory panel and did not bother to give any recorded reason why this one project that he selected himself was identified as more meritorious than the 40 other projects that were ranked equally or the 76 projects that were ranked more highly by the panel in the sustainable funding categories. There were 40 projects in a group where the panel said to the minister, 'You could fund any one of these if you had a bit of spare money,' but there were 76 projects that were ranked more highly by the panel as suitable for funding. So there were 76 more suitable but the minister did not pick any of those 76. He went to the next category and of the 40 he picked one. Which one was it? It was the Geelong Library and Heritage Centre. I am glad for Geelong and I am glad their library and heritage centre is going to get some money. But why did they get the grant when there were 40 other projects equally as good—I am sure most of them in coalition electorates—and there were 76 other projects signified by the panel as being ranked more highly? I am not quite sure who represents Geelong in the federal parliament. Could it be a Labor member on a very slim margin? Would I be remiss in making that estimate?

Perhaps one of the Labor Party senators might be able to follow me in this discussion and advise me why the Geelong library—and they might tell me who represents Geelong in the federal parliament and how big his margin is—was picked from 40 which were ranked equally and 76 which were more highly ranked. In this program, as with others developed by this dysfunctional government, one has every right to be suspicious of the honesty and veracity in which the program is administered. I seek leave to continue my remarks.