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Tuesday, 30 November 2004
Page: 41

Senator CARR (3:04 PM) —I move:

That the Senate take note of answers given by ministers to questions without notice asked by opposition senators today.

I suggest to the Senate that the imbroglio surrounding the Regional Partnerships program is getting deeper and deeper. If you were a public servant trying to administer this program I would not be surprised if you were somewhat perplexed in working out the basis for funding of projects under this program. In the eyes of many public servants there is an eye-watering stench surrounding this program. It is being seen increasingly as a slush fund for the National Party. Today we raised some questions concerning one project that I am particularly concerned about and that is the $1 million—$1.2 million when you include the GST—that has been paid to Primary Energy Pty Ltd and which was announced on 17 August this year by the Deputy Prime Minister. This was paid to Mr Matthew Kelley who is, I understand, a very close associate of the Deputy Prime Minister. He is a member of the government's ethanol task force and he has been associated with the Deputy Prime Minister for some time.

According to the ASIC records he was operating a one-dollar company. The government paid $1.2 million to a company with a paid-up share value of $1. According to these records, his principal place of residence, his registered office and his principal place of business are one and the same place. So it would appear from the ASIC records that he is working from home. That is a hell of an amount to be paid to work from home. I could be corrected on that if the ASIC records were up to date. The government has paid $1.2 million to this firm when no ASIC return has been lodged for 2003. Papers were sent to ASIC but they were sent back because they were not complete.

We have a situation here where the administration of the program has now been seriously questioned on the basis that $1.2 million has been paid to a company for undertaking research projects by the CSIRO. This is in complete contradiction of the guidelines themselves, which are very explicit on this very point. We have a situation where the Deputy Prime Minister actually announced the money being paid to this company at a barbecue attended by the Prime Minister, along with 700 other persons. It was clearly aimed at the re-election of the government and the re-election of The Nationals members of the government. The grant is being paid in contravention of the guidelines and it is now being said that it has been authorised by the junior minister in Mr Anderson's portfolio, Mr Lloyd. If the truth be known, that is a mere technicality. The grants were administered, and it was stated publicly on all the various government documents, as a Regional Partnerships program. It was not a local government program. It was approved by Mr Lloyd on the basis that it was the senior minister's electorate that the money was being paid into.

We have had further advice today that the government says, `Yes, it may well be that these guidelines were in fact breached.' The guidelines are quite explicit that money cannot be paid for research work. The government acknowledges that, although it tries to duck and weave and say, `Maybe it was a prospectus or something like that.' The reality now appears to be that the government has a new set of guidelines, and this is really Monty Pythonesque. The government has a new set of guidelines called the SONA guidelines—`strategic opportunities national assessment' guidelines. These are the guidelines you have when you get into trouble on the main guidelines. These are the guidelines that override all other guidelines. When the government says that it is in the national interest—by which they mean The Nationals' sectional interest—you can override the stated guidelines, the published guidelines, and you can say that this is now a SONA project, and the paperwork says how to use the SONA guidelines. From March this year a new set of arrangements have been in place in this government. There has been no published documentation, no statement that there are overriding guidelines, but a secret set of protocols to public servants to override the stated public policy position as announced by the government with regard to regional programs. (Time expired)