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Wednesday, 18 October 2017
Page: 7832

Senator BERNARDI (South Australia) (11:28): Thank you, Minister. I'm heartened by your reassurance that all the appropriate probity and accountability of government will be brought to bear in many of these grants. But what you've said flies in stark contrast to what Senator Rice has been saying—which has resonated with me, quite frankly—which is that there is no real, formal approval process. The board can make some suggestions which the minister can ignore and establish new classes of grants and dispense them wherever they like. For example, they could, in the interests of equality, not only give them to Armidale and Orange but they might slot it into Renmark for no particular reason—maybe to support the good work of a senator down there, or something like that. It doesn't seem as if there is any rationale or criteria attached to where these grants can go apart from the whims of the minister at the time.

Now, we may have confidence in the minister—some may not, currently—but no-one knows who is going to be the minister next. To place such discretion in the hands of any one individual without the checks and balances that accrue from the parliament—and I do note that the government has voted against the disallowance of these grants, these potential boondoggles, these potential whiteboard/sports rorts, to coin a term; these could be ag rorts in a future life. These are normal checks and balances that accompany the responsibilities and roles of government.

Further, how does something like this get through the cabinet without these checks and balances? I know you are not in cabinet, Minister. I think you've been given a hospital pass here in some respects, and I'm sorry for that, but, in effect, this doesn't seem even to have gone through the normal cursory examinations and consultation attached to cabinet probity. It just seems as if it's been cooked up on the whim of one or two individuals in order to give them some discretion to prop up political threats, and that really concerns me. I don't think it's the right approach. It overturns the principles of federation. As I said, it overturns some of the concerns raised on the constitutionality by the Productivity Commission. It overturns the expectation of appropriate consultation and examination by the parliament and the ability to say, 'This is absolutely wrong.' It has all the hallmarks of a scheme that is going to be rorted. It may be well intended, but these are serious concerns. Minister, whilst you have assured us of these probities, I still haven't heard an effective response to Senator Rice's concerns that, in effect, this is just a bag of money that is at ministerial discretion to throw out wherever they like.