Senate debates

Tuesday, 23 February 2021


Queensland: Local Government

7:43 pm

Photo of Malcolm RobertsMalcolm Roberts (Queensland, Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party) Share this | | Hansard source

As a servant to the people of Queensland and Australia, I wish to further discuss the corruption that continues in Queensland local government. This corruption is ripping off hundreds of millions of dollars of Commonwealth and state taxpayers' money. These moneys are being redirected, not spent on their intended purposes, not spent at all or corruptly provided to persons in exchange for overvalued materials and services. Emergency Management Australia, EMA, administers the National Disaster Relief and Recovery Arrangements, the NDRRA, and the Disaster Recovery Funding Arrangements, the DRFA, funding on behalf of the Australian government. Seventy-five per cent of the funds are from the Australian government, and the remainder is reimbursed by the Queensland state government. The Queensland Reconstruction Authority, QRA, and Emergency Management Queensland, EMQ, coordinate disaster funding in Queensland. Queensland councils received $5.4 billion in NDRRA funds from 2011 to 2019. This may be a billion-dollar scandal.

Recent royal commissions into aged care, institutional abuse and banking practices only came about after much opposition. Look how much evidence surfaced when people were able to come forward to tell their stories. This inquiry is urgently needed. The councils and the Local Government Association of Queensland facilitate a system where contractors make huge profits from road-building by fraudulently claiming payments and stripping 40 to 60 per cent out of NDRRA funding as private profits. These practices are widespread across Queensland. At the heart of this local government corruption has been the Local Government Association of Queensland, the LGAQ, a private company that has a special relationship with the Queensland government and is not obliged to go to tender when contracting with councils.

This lack of transparency breeds corruption. What makes the LGAQ unique is the special statutory provisions that make the LGAQ virtually unaccountable for their actions. Under rule 234 of the Local Government Regulation 2012 a council is exempt from calling contracts to tender or calling quotes if the contract is entered into under an LGA arrangement. Can you imagine that? This includes a contract made with the LGAQ. Every contract the LGAQ enters involves a substantial fee being paid to the LGAQ. I will say that again. Every contract the LGAQ enters involves a substantial fee being paid to the LGAQ. It is classic cartel arrangement prohibited in any other state except Queensland, where it is legalised by rule 234.

Some of this information has been disclosed in the Queensland state parliament and directly to the CCC, which inexplicably declined to investigate. Many complaints to the CCC about a council are sent back to the council to investigate itself; actual CCC investigation is rare. A research paper prepared by Professor Timothy Prenzler into the complaints sent to the CCC found that less than two per cent of complaints were investigated and the other 98 per cent largely disappeared. Why?

After I alerted the Senate that I wished to put a motion to support a Senate select committee inquiry into this corruption, the LGAQ sent representatives to Canberra to try to stop the inquiry. Some mayors contacted the office of the local government minister, Mr Coulton, objecting to the inquiry. What are they afraid of? What do these mayors all have to hide? What do they think an inquiry will reveal? Is this an admission of guilt? A council with nothing to hide would welcome an opportunity to show how well it uses public money. Yet, when the motion was put to the vote, the government, Labor and the Greens voted against this anticorruption motion.

This was quite stunning. The government wishes to introduce an integrity bill, yet voted against an anti-integrity motion. The Greens believe the lies that complaints brought to the CCC had been investigated and found to be without substance. This is false. Key witnesses were never contacted, let alone questioned. Key locations were never inspected or visited. How could the Greens say this constituted an investigation? Crossbench senators Jacqui Lambie and Rex Patrick know I'm right and supported my motion. I thank these senators for their integrity. The mechanics of the corrupt practices are known and have been brought to the attention of the authorities. I call on the Senate to do the right thing. I will continue exposing this corruption and continue to seek a Senate select committee to protect taxpayers' money and to restore integrity.