Senate debates

Monday, 9 August 2021


Industry Growth Centres; Order for the Production of Documents

5:24 pm

Photo of Murray WattMurray Watt (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Northern Australia) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the Senate take note of the document.

Why is the Morrison government so allergic to accountability? On 24 December last year, the Morrison government was handed the initial impact evaluation report of the Industry Growth Centres Initiative by ACIL Allen. The ACIL Allen report cost Australian taxpayers nearly half a million dollars. This report, which Minister Porter and his department have now sat on for at least eight months, has once again been locked in a drawer by a government that refuses to be accountable to this parliament, even when the Senate orders it to be tabled in this place.

You have to ask yourself: why would the Morrison government defy the will of the Senate and hide this from the public? We don't have the report in hand, but here's what we do know from Labor's ongoing scrutiny of this matter. The former minister for industry, Karen Andrews, was never briefed on the report, but her office was provided with an advance copy. Nothing was done with it, of course; it was a half-a-million-dollar drawer filler. We know that, six months after the report was received by the Morrison government, the department still had not formally briefed ministers on it. We know that, in June of this year, the new minister, Christian Porter, did not even have a copy of the report or a written brief. So why has it taken the Morrison government more than eight months to begin deliberating on this report, which cost Australian taxpayers nearly half a million dollars? I suspect it's because they've been busily working away at their colour coded spreadsheets again, and they do not want to be confronted by the evidence—the facts of what is good value for money—because it would fly in the face of the Liberal Party's political interests.

When the shadow minister for industry and innovation submitted a freedom of information request for the release of this report, the department estimated it would take over 289 hours to process the 22 documents and 420 emails relevant to the request. That's a lot of activity for a document that no-one seems to have been briefed on or read or know anything about. We do know this much: leaked excerpts of the report state:

The centres have successfully leveraged government funding to raise private sector funds for the projects they support, as well as helping raise more than $200 million in equity.

The excerpts further state:

The centres have intensive networks and expertise, and responded with agility to the Covid-19 pandemic—

but that additional funding is required to help growth centres scale. That is, the industry growth centres are working; they just need better resourcing. The government should be celebrating this, but, instead, they're again hiding behind the secretive veil of cabinet, seemingly immune to accountability and free to pick and choose their own winners and losers. While these ministers continue to hide behind cabinet process or deliberations, our industry is suffering. With just $19.6 million in government funding, the Advanced Manufacturing Growth Centre alone has generated 2,361 direct jobs in manufacturing and $1 billion in additional sales for Australian manufacturing businesses. So, again, why the secrecy? Only the minister and the Morrison government know the answer to that. If this were a good news story for those opposite, they'd be shouting it from the mountain tops. They're all about the photo-op but never about the follow-up. And they're certainly not about accountability and transparency.

The brazenness of this government in disregarding FOIs and Senate orders highlights how emboldened they have become and, sadly, how far ministerial standards have fallen under the Morrison government. We know Mr Morrison and his cabinet colleagues think they're above the law, none more so than the minister for industry himself, Christian Porter. In response to this request, Minister Porter didn't even cite a public interest immunity. He just basically said, 'I don't feel like complying with my obligations to the Australian parliament today.' It speaks volumes of the Liberals' 'born to rule' mentality that they can so easily brush away their responsibilities to the Australian people.

Labor has attempted to access this report through estimates and freedom of information requests, but these have been constantly stonewalled. Labor has now attempted to force the government's arm through the Senate with an order for the growth centres report to be tabled by today. Again, we have been stonewalled. It's disgraceful and it's a slap in the face to Australians who want and deserve more from their parliament. The government should just table these reports. I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.