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Pressure mounts on Government over grants - Deputy PM must take responsibility.



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Senator Kim Carr

Labor Senator for Victoria Shadow Minister for Public Administration and Open Government, Indigenous Affairs and Reconciliation and the Arts

30/11/04

Pressure mounts on Govt over grants - Deputy PM must take responsibility

John Anderson is under mounting pressure over pre-election grants, with revelations today that a $1.2 million ethanol project, announced by Anderson just prior to the election, violates the grant guidelines set by his own department.

The Government has said nothing in Question Time today to answer the myriad questions about this and other schemes. The Government also refused to table secret Strategic Opportunities National Allocations guidelines under which the project was approved. Labor calls on the Government to publish these guidelines.

The Government has allocated $1.2 million to a $1 shelf company, Primary Energy, in direct conflict with the Regional Partnerships guidelines. The announcement was made by Mr Anderson, at a Gunnedah barbecue, attended by the Prime Minster.

According to today's Financial Review Primary Energy owner Matthew Kelley said the ethanol grant was to be used for CSIRO research. But the Regional Partnerships explicitly exclude: "private enterprise and cooperatives that are considering commercial enterprises, requesting funding for planning, studies or research."

This afternoon Mr Anderson told the Parliament that time had been running out to get the ethanol project up, and that it had been approved under the secret SONA guidelines. Also it was a carry over project from a defunct scheme, the Namoi Valley Adjustment Package.

This morning Anderson's junior minister Jim Lloyd was trotted out to carry the can, saying that guidelines had been waived in this case.

Anderson is the senior minister. Under the Prime Minister's Code of Conduct John Anderson is responsible. Where are these secret guidelines and how are the community meant to know about them?

Taxpayers have a right to know that their money is being spent in the best possible way. How can the taxpayer maintain such confidence when normal public accountability requirements have been ditched.

Labor is very concerned that political criteria seem to have replaced merit as the selection criteria for grants. Bad administrative practice leaves great regional projects out in the cold.

The Regional Partnerships program is looking more and more like a $308 million vote-buying slush-fund.

This is why a Senate inquiry is needed.

Further information:

Kim Carr 0419 563 922, Catriona Jackson, 0417 142 238.