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Monday, 29 November 2004
Page: 39

Senator CARR (3:02 PM) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the answers given by the Minister for the Environment and Heritage (Senator Ian Campbell) and the Minister for Defence (Senator Hill) to questions without notice asked today relating to the Regional Partnerships program.

The fundamental principles of good policy administration and good program delivery are outlined in numerous Australian National Audit Office reports and various pieces of legislation, such as the Administrative Decisions (Judicial Review) Act and of course the Public Service guidelines. They might be summarised in these broad terms: a program should have a clear policy rationale, the funding should be open, arrangements should be transparent, all the necessary probity arrangements should be put in place, selection should be based upon merit, administrative practice should be applied consistently across the program, everybody who is affected by the program should have a fair chance to apply for money, there should be value for money, there should be some measures in place to protect taxpayer interests and there must always be a paper trail so that the proper audit arrangements can take place. With regard to the payment of program moneys, the standard procedure of the Australian Public Service—one which now has an international reputation for excellence in this regard—is that contracts should be subject to audit, that all decisions are renewable and that decision makers themselves should not be subject to allegations of conflict of interest. The Public Service guidelines spell out these principles in terms of the values and the code of conduct of the Australian Public Service.

When we look at the Regional Partnerships program, we note that those fundamental principles have been placed under attack by this government. A number of very serious questions arise as a result of the government's failure to set in place the necessary administrative protections on probity, the necessary administrative protections to ensure that decisions are based on merit—so that it is not possible to argue that decisions are based on bias—and the necessary accountability practices. This $408 million program has now been subject to some pretty basic assaults with regard to the fundamental principles of public administration in this country.

We have a simple proposition: were projects properly advertised? Was it possible for people in these regions to know that money was available? Was it possible for citizens in these regions to apply to the Australian Public Service, through proper program guidelines, to ensure that moneys were made available on the basis of merit? What we have seen to date is a series of allegations about hand-picked committees determining the allocation of public dollars on the basis of political prejudice not on the basis of administrative merit. We have some very serious questions being raised about government expenditure, at least in the case of $27 million. In the run-up to the last federal election a series of actions was taken by a political party—during an election campaign—and now through the ERC the government is seeking to legitimise those actions. A vote-buying spree was undertaken on behalf of the National Party to try to protect the interests of one political party within this parliament. In six regional projects—dubbed the so-called national icons—some $27 million of public money was made available for the political interests of a party in this parliament.

That is why people are saying that running right through this there is the smell of an enormous rat. That is why the case for a Senate inquiry is broadening; the case is strengthening. What we have seen, in New England in particular, is members of this parliament, on behalf of the government, saying that some members of this parliament are illegitimate and not able to fulfil their obligations as members of parliament to represent their constituents; that the government would close doors to some members of parliament when it came to undertaking their job to represent the people of their electorate. In the case of the R.M. Williams Bush Centre in Hinkler, money was made available, without application—on the basis of a nod and a wink from the local political apparatchiks. Individual projects are being funded on the basis of political prejudice, not merit. That situation is intolerable in any modern society with proper administrative practices. (Time expired)