Senate debates

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Auditor-General's Reports

Report No. 27 of 2011-12

4:31 pm

Photo of Stephen ParryStephen Parry (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

In accordance with the provisions of the Auditor-General Act 1997, I present the following report of the Auditor-General: Report No. 27 of 2011-12—Performance audit—Establishment, implementation and administration of the bike paths component of the Local Jobs Stream of the Jobs Fund.

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.

4:42 pm

Photo of Scott LudlamScott Ludlam (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the same matter. Like Senator Abetz, I have only been in possession of these documents for around an hour. Unlike Senator Abetz, who jumped to a whole heap of hasty conclusions to score a cheap point at the expense of cyclists, I am going to make some observations. I will acknowledge that Senator Abetz is a keen cyclist. The only thing that the coalition did not do during 12 years of government was fund cycling. I want to make some quick comments on the executive summary, which is what Senator Abetz did.

I pay a great deal of attention to documents that come from the Australian National Audit Office, particularly when it is a report on something as important as cycling infrastructure. This is all we have to show for the last couple of years of Commonwealth funding and investment in cycling programs. Senators will perhaps be surprised to learn that apart from this program, which the ANAO has provided this report on today, there is no standing Commonwealth appropriation for cycling infrastructure. As important as that is—and many of us in this place and in the broader community take advantage of this infrastructure when it does go in—there is not a single dollar of Commonwealth money spent on a standing appropriation for cycling.

The only way to get the Commonwealth government to fund cycling initiatives is to put a freeway in. Some of the larger urban freeway projects that have been put in in the last couple of years have had bike paths alongside them. Apart from that, not a single dollar has gone into cycling. That is an enormous shame.

I missed the first few moments of the no doubt memorable contribution on this matter from Senator Abetz. I presume that he spent the first minute or so sledging the Greens for having come up with this initiative. We did, of course, and I am happy to take credit for it. It was a Greens initiative to put cycling infrastructure in with the Jobs Fund. After that, once the government had taken carriage of that and agreed that cycling was worthwhile—that putting this infrastructure in and having a Commonwealth appropriation for cycling was a good idea—regrettably, the Australian Greens lost all control and oversight of that funding.

This, quite literally, is the first opportunity we have had to see how the government handled it. And I think that the key takeaway is that it takes longer than you think. What the government was trying to do was to put people to work on the spot, straightaway, right at the point where we thought the world financial system was going to seize up. I think that what is very clearly shown, certainly from page 17 of this short executive summary, is that it took a lot longer than that for people actually to get to work. What that tells me is that the states and territories, and probably the majority of local governments, were not ready. When the Commonwealth said, 'Give us whatever proposals you have right now to put people to work on cycling right now,' they were not able to.

The graph on page 17 quite clearly shows that. Some of the funding is still washing through. In fact, on page 16 it indicates that some of the final funding will not have been spent until next month—until April 2012. Senator Abetz is quite right to point out that the funding was not all dispersed right at the point where world financial markets were having their heart attacks and that, in fact, it took considerably longer to put all these projects onto the ground.

I do not know what we can take away from that, apart from the fact that we do need to be ready. What I take away from this is that we do need metropolitan and regional centre cycling strategies and plans that can be funded and that can be built in a systematic way. In my home state of Western Australia and in my home city of Perth we have just discovered that the Perth Bike Network is effectively half built. I have just produced a map of the Perth Bike Network and there are these little dots, dashes, segments and fragments of a bike network that in no way resemble a network. They will try and kill you when you run off the end of some—you are spilled back into traffic again and you are on your own.

I would contend that throwing $40 million at the entire country really is not going to do much more than create a couple more of those segments. We need to get much more systematic about funding of cycling infrastructure. I think that what we will find when we go through these documents in detail is that the plans were not there. They were not ready; the states were not able to come to the table the moment after the stimulus package proposal was announced and put viable proposals in front of the Commonwealth government. That is why we have this lag time.

So I do not think that you will find it has failed in terms of employment, because ultimately these jobs were created and these projects were implemented. They were put onto the ground. Nothing, on my reading of this document, indicates any kind of scandal or wastage of funds or projects that were not eventually adopted. All that happened was that there was this 12- to 18-month lag in putting them in. That tells me that we were not ready and that the states and territories were not ready simply to say on the spot, 'Here you go. Here are our integrated cycling plans, and now please fund them.'

With the greatest respect, even if they had been $40 million is not enough to do the job. It is simply not enough to do that job. It amounts to about $4 million for Western Australia and that would be enough to put in about four kilometres of principle shared path, so another little segment on the map; but nothing like closing the network of safe paths that get cyclists of any age off our roads and out of traffic, and smaller paths and ways of traffic calming that do not destroy cyclists' rights and which actually create an integrated network.

We do not have such a plan in Western Australia. I know that some local governments are doing the work and are paying a lot of attention to this. I am aware of what is going on, for example, in the City of Sydney and in some other places. Certainly, from a Western Australian perspective the plans are fragmentary, they are unfunded and there is no standing Commonwealth appropriation for cycling.

In this budget cycle we have proposed a standing appropriation, and I think that what we will find is that this ANAO report will stand us in very good stead when rolling out a larger bracket of funding that is standing, and that will go towards the systematic rollout of cycling infrastructure in this country. I would contend, probably without taking a poll—I guess I could call a quorum and find out—that most of us in here cycle, either recreationally or on a commuter basis. I cycle to work every morning when I am in Fremantle and I know that there are certain parts even of that fairly short trip that are inordinately dangerous, where we are mixing it up with heavy vehicles coming in and out of the port and that that could be fixed.

There are plenty of people like me who are thrown into quite dangerous situations. Two Greens staffers that I am aware of have been knocked off their bikes on the way into work, one here in Canberra and one in Fremantle, because we are forcing cyclists to mix it up with traffic. What I hope this report will allow us to do is back up the Greens proposal for a standing appropriation in this next budget. We know that it is something that the infrastructure minister is contemplating, because I have been badgering him about it for months since we put that proposal in to government that we need a standing appropriation that is there year-in and year-out to actually build out these networks.

Perth is obviously one that I am most familiar with, but right around the country we know that cyclists, whether they are recreational or commuter cyclists, deserve safe infrastructure—and it is excellent value for money compared with funding urban freeway projects—they deserve end-of-trip facilities and they deserve to be looked after by the Commonwealth. Mr Albanese frequently gets up in front of press conferences and boasts that he doubled Commonwealth road funding. I think that in some regional areas you will find that that is justified, but there is no further justification for expanding extraordinarily expensive urban freeways, particularly when that is at the expense of public transport and cycling infrastructure.

So I look forward to getting into these documents in a bit of detail. The takeaway message for me is that it takes longer than you think. You cannot just push a button and assume that you can spend money on cycling infrastructure if state and territory planning departments have not done the strategic planning work in advance. That is something that the Greens plan to pursue. I look forward to budget night when we find that the government has in fact seen sense and that the minister announces we will have a standing appropriation for cycling funding so that the lessons in these ANAO documents can be learned and that some of the lessons can be implemented.

4:51 pm

Photo of Ian MacdonaldIan Macdonald (Queensland, Liberal Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Northern and Remote Australia) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank Senator Abetz for drawing the attention of senators to this Auditor-General's report, which identifies yet another scandalous waste of money by the Labor Party government supported by the Greens political party. I note Senator Abetz's comments and I see on page 145 the reference to the Byron Shire Council, one of the few councils in Australia that is controlled by the Greens political party. It is no surprise to me that that council got a considerable grant for their cycling project. Can I declare an interest. I also cycle here in Canberra, in my hometown of Ayr and in Townsville. I have a cycle in each of those places, which I try to ride every morning. But I can be assured that we will never have to worry about money being spent in my hometown of Ayr, because the Labor government has no interest whatsoever in rural and regional Australia. There is no way in the world that there will ever be any grants for cycleways in most parts of rural and regional Australia.

I am concerned about the Greens and the Labor Party and that the financial mismanagement we see highlighted again here in this Auditor-General's report will be repeated should the Labor Party again win government in Queensland. We know the Greens have entered into another unholy alliance with the Labor Party in Queensland, and I think Mr Katter's party as well will be helping the Labor Party to be returned to office in Queensland. Certainly the Greens have done some dirty deals for preferences, and, again, it is a pay-off for things like the wild rivers legislation, which the Labor Party introduced at the request of the Greens. The payoff was Greens preferences; in this case, Greens preferences in the electorate of Ashgrove.

In passing, I note that there are two Greens candidates in Queensland who will not be bullied by the head office of the Greens and have refused point-blank to distribute preferences in the Queensland state election. Whilst the candidate in the electorate of Townsville, Jenny Stirling, and I do not agree on much, I admire her principle in refusing to take orders from headquarters about the allocation of preferences to the Labor Party. Congratulations to her. That is a rarity, I might say. You have only to see the leader of the Greens political party in this chamber to know that those ideas of principle and honesty are never close at hand in this area.

I draw the Senate's attention to page 127 of the Auditor General's report. He says:

… the processes used to select the successful applications for bike paths component funding unnecessarily departed from the published program guidelines, particularly with respect to the decision not to limit funding to only those applications that had been assessed as meeting unemployment gateway criterion.

The Auditor-General goes on to clearly point out:

… the distribution of funding would have predominantly favoured projects in electorates held by the Australian Labor Party. Specifically:

    I think this report does indicate yet again that there is a preference indicated by the government going to electorates held by the Australian Labor Party.

    Could I also show, as part of Labor's mismanagement, for which Labor is renowned, that this was supposed to be a stimulus program. The global financial crisis was three or four years ago now. The stimulus was meant to create jobs then, but we find again that with the typical mismanagement of the Labor Party the money is still being dribbled out now, two or three years after the time that that stimulus program was supposed to create job creation. This confirms my concern for my state of Queensland. Labor and financial management just do not go together in the same breath. I keep reminding the Senate that Queensland—a very, very wealthy state, with its fabulous agricultural output and its very wealthy mines—has lost its triple-A credit rating under the Labor government in Queensland and, if the Greens, with their influence on the Labor Party, have their way, Queensland will go further into debt.

    I note with interest a funding proposal for an Australian anticoal movement put out by John Hepburn from Greenpeace Australia Pacific, from Bob Burton from a group called Coalswarm and from Sam Hardy from the Graeme Wood Foundation. We know all about Mr Graeme Wood. Mr Graeme Wood is the man who gave Australia's biggest political donation ever—$1.6 million—to the Australian Greens. There have been allegations made in this place—I would not make them, of course—that this was simply cash for comment.

    Photo of Rachel SiewertRachel Siewert (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

    Madam Acting Deputy President, on a point of order: Senator Macdonald keeps repeating these allegations, despite the fact that the Privileges Committee has reported on this. In saying he would not make the allegations, of course we all know he is making them. I ask you to ask him to please not repeat the allegations, even though he says he is not repeating them.

    Photo of Mary FisherMary Fisher (SA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

    Thank you, Senator Siewert; there is no point of order.

    Photo of Ian MacdonaldIan Macdonald (Queensland, Liberal Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Northern and Remote Australia) Share this | | Hansard source

    I understand the Privileges Committee report—all of us here know what the Privileges Committee can and cannot do. But allegations have been made and methinks that perhaps it is not the Privileges Committee that should be investigating these things but perhaps the police. That would be something that I think should be more closely pursued.

    As I was saying, this funding proposal for the anticoal movement is a typical Greenpeace-Greens blueprint for how you destroy Australia. It has happened in the timber industry and it has happened in the forestry industry, and here is the blueprint. It tells how you can make it happen in the coal industry. The strategy is all set out there for anyone to see: disrupt and delay key infrastructure, constrain the space for mining, increase investor risk, increase cost, withdraw social licence, build a powerful movement. And so it goes on, chapter and verse in fine detail, as to how you can destroy an industry and destroy Australia. It is this political party, supported by these same groups, that is supporting the Queensland government on Saturday and wanting the Queensland government to get back into power. We have seen the price of that in Queensland—shut down Cape York and shut down western Queensland. It does not matter to the latte sippers in the leafy suburbs of Brisbane if people in the north, who make their livelihoods out of that country, are dispossessed; it does not matter if Indigenous people in Cape York and western Queensland are dispossessed; it does not matter if those of us in rural Australia and regional Queensland who rely on farming and mining are dispossessed—because the Greens want to lock more and more places away. Don't worry about that! The Greens, who generally live in the leafy suburbs of Brisbane, do not care, as long as it does not worry them. Shut down the means of production! This document I refer to—partly funded it seems again by Mr Graeme Wood—about stopping the coal export boom is a cracker. I would urge everyone to have a look at that and understand how the radical green movement, supported by the Greens political party, works in this area.

    This report of the Auditor-General on the mismanagement of the bike paths component of the local jobs stream of the Jobs Fund should be compulsory reading for any voter before they go to vote in any election anywhere. They will see yet again that you simply cannot trust the Labor Party and their Green mates with money. They are incompetent, have no financial understanding and just waste taxpayers' money. (Time expired) I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

    Leave granted.