Tuesday, 3 August 2021
Australian National Audit Office; Consideration
[by video link] I wish to speak to Auditor-General report No.47 2020-21: performance audit: administration of commuter car park projects within the urban congestion fund. This is the report that the ANAO has done in regard to the spending of money from the Urban Congestion Fund for commuter car parks. Before I speak about the political corruption involved in this rort, which was made very clear in this report, I want to start by talking about the appalling waste of public funds that we're talking about overall. We're talking about spending hundreds of millions of dollars building car parks on the total pretence that this will address urban congestion. Urban congestion is a real problem and for the sake of livable cities it needs to be addressed, but there are so many flaws in the government's approach to tackling it.
This is the first layer of corruption that this government has presided over. I want to cover this in some detail because most of the commentary so far on the rorting of this program and how it has been pork-barrelling focused on marginal and targeted seats has just accepted that building car parks is a valuable way of tackling urban congestion. But the only tangible evidence that the department of infrastructure was able to provide to us as to why they thought building car parks would address urban congestion was an Infrastructure Australia paper from 2018. Even though they referenced that paper, the analysis in it did not give them the justification that they needed. Basically, Infrastructure Australia said that building car parks at outer suburban stations which serve low-density regions could be useful but that we should also improve other public transport access to stations—commuter bus services, walking and cycling, making it easier for people to drop people off—rather than building expensive car parks as the first option.
There are huge problems in getting more people on trains by building more car parks. Station parking very often gets filled very quickly—by about seven o'clock in the morning—and often it's local workers and tradies who fill the spaces rather than people catching the trains. Parking is horrendously expensive to build and is a massive waste of valuable space close to stations. You just cannot provide enough car parking for the thousands of people—or tens of thousands of people—who will be catching trains from a railway station each day. Feeder bus services, which I mention, are much more effective.
In Victoria, where the majority of these car parks are proposed to be built, car parking is not discussed by the Victorian government's strategic transport planning, the 2012 rail development plan for Melbourne or the Department of Transport's 2019 strategic plan. Basically, this federal government ignored state priorities in creating this rort. Other options that should be considered are active transport, improving public transport, more bike paths, more walking paths and more end-of-trip facilities for bikes. We need to make it genuinely easy for people to get to the station in ways that are non-polluting and that don't require hundreds of thousands of dollars—or millions of dollars, which is required to build these car parks.
The department of infrastructure justified building these car parks by saying, 'We did a benefit-cost ratio analysis and it was all positive.' But if you look at the benefit-cost ratio that they did, it was absolutely dodgy. It was an absolutely appallingly weak piece of analysis. The entire basis of their analysis was that there was a broadbrush, generic assumption that removing vehicles would have an incredibly high value per kilometre for other cars travelling on the roads. If you have awful assumptions, you end up with awful analysis—garbage in, garbage out. The benefit-cost ratio is wildly inadequate for a program worth $650 million. I undertook much better transport planning work when I was a strategic planner at the City of Hume before I was in the Senate. So that's the first rort. Rather than doing good policies, this government insisted on building car parks that are hugely problematic, ineffective and wasteful.
Now let me just quickly address the second layer of corruption. This whole program started with a wish list of 20 electorates, and then the list expanded. So, right from the start, the rort was baked in. This was pork-barrelling. This was determining where money was being spent on the basis of buying votes rather than good public policy. It was purely about putting projects in marginal electorates. It was run out of the minister's office, with the knowledge and cooperation of the Prime Minister's office. The sheer outrageous audacity of this corruption is incredible. This isn't just a small bit of corruption. This is corruption. This is an appalling waste of public money, and the Senate needs to consider its consideration.