Senate debates

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Auditor-General's Reports

Report No. 27 of 2011-12

4:31 pm

Photo of Eric AbetzEric Abetz (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations) Share this | Hansard source

by leave—I move:

That the Senate take note of the document.

Audit report No. 27 for this financial year paints a picture of the consequences of governments giving in to greenmail. In exchange for a vote from the Greens, the ALP yet again sold their policy soul. This audit report exposes a last-minute, rushed bad policy courtesy of the Greens, being badly administered and implemented by the ALP. This is why the Greens-ALP alliance is so harmonious. The Greens provide the bad ideas and the ALP provide the bad administration. It is a wonderful partnership.

As a relatively keen cyclist, albeit somewhat former, I support bike paths as a concept. What I do not support is waste, and waste is what has been identified by the Australian National Audit Office in this, the 27th report. I understand that there are certain people within the Australian green movement that have made derogatory comments about Senator Bob Brown being a megalomaniac. Now, with this, I think he is also a cyclepath! If you have a look at this report you can see incompetence and bad policy writ large.

Let's go to page 7 of the supporting document. In it we are told that the department did not provide its minister with recommendations as to which applications for bike paths should be approved. Let's just remember that these bike paths were part and parcel of Labor's so-called stimulus package and the Greens, using their greenmail, said to Labor, 'We will not support your badly thought-out stimulus package unless you give us some money to carve out.' Part of that was for these bike paths. This is what the Auditor-General looked into. He found the department did not provide its minister with recommendations as to which applications should be approved. So how were they approved? It goes on to say:

The responsible department also did not undertake any value for money analysis in respect to the employment claims made by project proponents in their applications …

Why should that surprise us? Then it goes on to say that 'the iterative process used'—very similar to Ros Kelly and the whiteboard, it would seem—'to select the successful applications was inconsistent with the published Jobs Fund guidelines'. It goes on to say that they were being assessed by the responsible department as not meeting at least one of the criteria outlined in the published Jobs Fund guidelines. Despite this requirement, they were not excluded, and:

More than one quarter of the approved applications had been assessed as not meeting this key (and mandatory) criterion. This approach was taken notwithstanding that the available funding could have been fully allocated to projects—

that actually did meet the criteria. So this is Labor and the Greens at it in a way that most of us would never have expected. But, yes, they do it, and they do it, unfortunately, exceptionally well. The problem is that they do it with our borrowed money, borrowing $100 million a day, ever increasing the indebtedness of our nation.

On page 10 we are told that the approach taken to the bike paths component of the stimulus package represented a missed opportunity to maximise the contribution that the money and funding available for bike path construction could make towards achieving the objectives of the then extant National Cycling Strategy. They go on to say:

In addition, the responsible department did not undertake any value for money analysis in respect to the employment claims … At the same time, other projects which claimed significant employment benefits that were located in Priority Employment Areas and had been assessed as meeting all other identified criteria were not approved.

Who approved these bike paths and what was the outcome? We are told that the risk assessment played a relatively limited role. That is polite speak for 'non-existent'. It simply did not appear as part of the government's considerations. Then it says 'the approach taken to identifying and assessing risks lacked rigour'.

The list of findings by the Auditor-General goes on and on. What is more, the Auditor-General said this at the very end of the report—the very last line:

In the above circumstances, there is no reliable data available on actual employment outcomes achieved through projects funded under the bike paths component.

Indeed, they set out that 94 per cent of the projects for which one or more jobs had been reported as having been created or retained had no supporting documentation for that claim. These bike paths were being established—allegedly—to create employment. Senator Brown bragged about it with press release after press release. He was very strong on the press releases and very strong on the announcements. But what about on the follow-through on the substance? Completely and utterly lacking.

The Auditor-General tells us on page 145 the following:

There were also 34 projects where the proponent reported employment outcomes that were significantly greater (at least double …

Listen to this for an example:

For example, Byron Shire Council in Northern New South Wales had been awarded a $168 500 grant towards the estimated $370 700 cost of constructing an asphalt shared path (for pedestrians and cyclists) approximately 750 metres long and 2.5 metres wide. The application had stated that this work would create two short-term jobs and two work experience positions.

Guess what? It goes on to say:

The final report of June 2010 stated that 53 short-term jobs had been created on a ‘part-time employment’ basis with the report providing the following further advice in respect to this number: ‘Thirty (30) Council employees were involved on the project at some stage and are on ‘wage’; payment of which is made on the basis of hours committed to the project.

Who is the Mayor of Byron Shire Council? Who dominates the Byron Shire Council? Senator Ludlam is smiling; he knows the answer. It is the Australian Greens. So the greatest example of exaggeration of the number of jobs created comes from a Greens council trying to boost the employment figures of this hare-brained scheme, dealt with by ALP and Green senators in this place in a desperate bid to get this ill-conceived stimulus package through this place.

What we have here is a wonderful dovetailing of bad Green policy with bad administration, giving us yet another mess. When you see that $40 million has been spent on this mess without any actual outcomes to point to, you start realising why this nation is borrowing $100 million a day. Just this one bike path debacle represents only 40 per cent of what we borrow in a day as a nation, which gives you an indication of the extent of the waste that is being incurred by this Greens-ALP alliance. Lest I be misrepresented, I confirm that I am a keen cyclist. I support bike paths. But one thing we as a coalition will not support is this sort of rampant waste at the expense of the Australian taxpayer.


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