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Thursday, 12 March 2009
Page: 2553

Mr MORRISON (4:25 PM) —I note that the minister limped over the line there. I notice that the members opposite are leaving. They are all for jobs, all for talking about how they are going to get people sacked in restaurants up and down the Central Coast. They are the jobs that they like to talk about. But the jobs I want to talk about are the jobs being lost in this country under this government. In particular, I want to talk about the fact that the government think the job is done when they have made an announcement. Whether it is promises of funding, promises on housing or promises, most importantly, on jobs, Labor think the job is done when the announcement is made.

Last November I was in the Great Hall with some 500 mayors and the Prime Minister stood in front of those local government mayors and he waved $300 million around. He waved it around in front of their faces and demanded that they go—just like he demanded that the people of Australia went out with the cash splash they got before Christmas—and spend, spend, spend. If there was any doubt about when they should start, the Prime Minister dispelled it when he said:

By immediate, I mean immediate. It means now. It is ready to go now.

Coalition probing by Senator Payne in Senate estimates revealed the following. Within three months of that announcement, how many funding agreements had been signed? How many cheques had been sent to these more than 500 mayors? A hundred? No. Fifty? No. One funding agreement had been signed in three months. But we have had an absolute torrent of media statements, with the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government parading around the country saying, ‘We’re giving money here and we’re giving money there.’ But they forgot to send the cheque.

The problem the government have with this—and it is outlined by councillors to me every day—is that they have chosen to adopt the most bureaucratic process possible to spend this money. They said they were going to do it according to the financial assistance grants, where an allocation is made and the cheque is sent. They do it every year. But on this occasion they said, ‘No, this is the allocation.’ The cheques should have been on the mayors’ desks on the Monday when they got back after they were promised them the previous week but, no, they said, ‘You can spend it in this way and you have all got to send your applications here to Canberra, because the bureaucrats here in Canberra and the minister know better than every single mayor in this country where this money should be spent.’ So what we saw was delay, bureaucratic delay.

The Australian Council of Local Government made suggestions. They said: ‘Look, just tell us how to spend it. We are governments. We are not small organisations; we are governments and we are accountable for our money. It needs to be transparent and we will spend it properly.’ But no, the government did not trust them. They said, ‘No, you have got to spend it all in here and we will change the guidelines about two or three times, and when we are finished with that maybe we will send you a funding agreement.’ This money is supposed to be spent by 30 September and it has all got to be out the door by 30 June. They have spent more than three months in a bureaucratic process which is crippling a stimulus that was supposed to happen. That stimulus is not happening under this program because they simply cannot get their act together when they make an announcement about jobs. The jobs simply do not come. So the question to the Prime Minister is: if ‘now’ means now for jobs, when does ‘now’ mean now, given we are still waiting after three months?