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Thursday, 26 June 2008
Page: 3602

Senator McLUCAS (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Health and Ageing) (7:02 PM) —I think it is appropriate that I respond to some of the points that have been made by Senator Bernardi and Senator Kemp. First of all, I would like to go to the issue, Senator Kemp, of why leave was not granted to table the document that you wished to table. It is normal practice in this place, as you know, that documents are shown in good time to the whip—to the Government Whip in this case. I think you would certainly agree that a couple of minutes before beginning to speak on a contentious question, a politically contentious question—

Senator Bernardi —It’s not contentious; it’s factual.

Senator McLUCAS —I will go to that point in a moment, Senator Bernardi. But that is the normal process and that was not followed. Senator Bernardi has used quite the language of opposition. It suits him well. He has learnt it quickly. It is very easy to use very colourful language with flourish when you are in your position, Senator Bernardi. But the thing is that you have been told on a number of occasions why we are in this situation—why we are going through the proper process and why we are ensuring that due diligence is undertaken, unlike what the former government did in the infamous Regional Partnerships program. We are undertaking the process correctly, and Senator Bernardi simply does not want to listen. He is trying to run a story out there in the media and the legitimate answers to his questions do not suit his story so he prefers not to listen.

In total there are over 100 separate facilities projects across health and infrastructure. We are progressively working through the task of conducting some basic due diligence on each one. Progressively we are making formal, independent, public announcements when those due diligence processes have been completed. This is what Senator Bernardi refuses to understand. This is the way you spend taxpayers’ money wisely. This is what you need to do before you spend taxpayers’ money. You simply need to find out whether or not the project will be delivered. That is why you do due diligence. That was not done, and I have many examples of when it was not done, in Regional Partnerships. The process of negotiating and conducting a proper funding agreement with project proponents is an ongoing one. Senator Bernardi has raised a couple of specific examples, and I will give some information to the Senate on those.

In respect of facilities funding in Penrith there are two separate projects: one project is the Penrith stadium upgrade of $5 million and another is the Penrith Valley Regional Sports Centre upgrade of $250,000. I can confirm that both have received funding in the budget and, while a funding agreement has yet to be concluded for either, we do not envisage there being any impediments to the conclusion of funding agreements for each of these two Penrith projects in the future.

Senator Bernardi —Why did you try to hide them then?

Senator McLUCAS —Well, if you had not been talking to your whip when I was explaining the process, Senator Bernardi, you might have actually understood. You might like to have a look at the Hansard and then you will understand what in fact due diligence is.

Senator Bernardi interjecting—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Troeth)—Order! I have allowed a reasonable amount of interjection, and I am happy to take that, but the level of interjection is becoming disorderly. You have had your moment and Senator McLucas needs to have hers.

Senator McLUCAS —I can also confirm that funding for the Traralgon West Sports Complex was announced by the government on 20 June. This is an example of how the number of projects formally announced by the government post budget will continue to increase week by week as the due diligence process is completed and as discussions are held with proponents and potential other funding sources.

This is a government doing the right thing—making sure that taxpayers’ money that is going to be spent will deliver the outcome that is expected. We could remember the $400,000 that was paid to the Indigo Cheese Company—the cheese factory whose doors were in fact closed, with $22,000 being paid to them three months after the closure. We could remember the half a million dollars that was given to the Mareeba wildlife park about a month and a half before it went into receivership.

Senator Abetz —And you were opposed to that wildlife park.

Senator McLUCAS —That is what your government did, Senator Abetz—a half a million dollars.

Senator Abetz —And?

Senator McLUCAS —It went into receivership about six weeks after you gave them that money, so it is dead. It is not happening. Half a million dollars went nowhere. That is because due diligence was not undertaken. That is why we are undertaking due diligence now. It is a good and sensible process to go through and one that Senator Bernardi is determined not to understand. There will therefore be a rolling schedule of public statements as the due diligence process continues and subsequent formal announcements are made by the government. The government has absolutely nothing to hide and certainly nothing to fear. While we are proud of funding over 100 local sports facilities projects in the budget, we are also pleased to ensure there is an appropriate process in place before formally announcing project funding after the budget.

While we are happy to clear up any confusion, Senator Bernardi might reflect upon the fact that the coalition did not follow such due process when administering their now famous Regional Partnerships program and Sustainable Regions program. The fact that the opposition got the process so wrong has reaffirmed the government’s resolve to get this process right. As I said earlier, Senator Bernardi thinks he has a story that he can trot around to the papers. Senator Bernardi does not bother listening to the very sensible answers that the minister provided in a statement to the Senate yesterday and that I hope I have been able to provide today. This is good government, good practice, making sure that we do not end up doing things like your government did—that is, throwing money around wildly without undertaking any due diligence on the process.

If I had some more time, and had had a little more time to prepare, I could have gone through the many projects that started the whole inquiry into the Regional Partnerships program and the Sustainable Regions program. Have you read the Australian National Audit Office’s report that, one by one, goes through the lack of process that was undertaken by the previous government and as a result the abject waste of taxpayers’ money? We do not have time to do that now. This government has learned from the previous government’s mistakes and we intend to ensure that taxpayers’ money allocated to good sporting projects and good facilities projects will turn benefits for those small communities. We do not want to be throwing money where it is not going to turn into an outcome.

Senator Bernardi, I hope I have been able to provide some clarity in answer to your questions but I do fear that your desire for a headline means that you will not bother thinking through what this government is doing—that is, being wise with taxpayers’ money so that we get an outcome for children and for users of sporting facilities around Australia. I think my fears are right—I think Senator Bernardi is still seeking that headline and not bothering to listen to the answer.

Question agreed to.