Calls for Senate investigation into “bad parking lots” as overwhelming evidence accumulates

Calls for a special parliamentary inquiry into the Morrison government’s $ 660 million parking program have surfaced after explosive revelations that the coalition targeted funding for projects in fringe seats before they were finalized .

Green Senator Janet Rice on Monday called for the entire Urban Congestion Fund to be reviewed by a Senate committee, saying the project was “a multibillion-dollar coalition program to buy votes” and a “fund electoral black “.

In a hearing on the Senate estimates earlier Monday, the Australian National Audit Office claimed that the Commuter Car Park fund started with a list of the “top 20 fringe seats” identified by Alan Tudge’s office, which was then Minister of Urban Infrastructure.

ANAO officials said the government chose where to build the parking lots based on the votes to be won rather than the potential for reducing congestion and noted that Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s office was involved in some of the decisions.

He said a similar approach was used for the larger $ 4.8 billion urban congestion fund of which the parking program was only a part.

“The overwhelming evidence provided by ANAO today shows that the corruption in the Morrison government is widespread and reaching to the top,” said Senator Rice. The new daily after Monday’s hearing.

“We need a full Senate investigation into UCF.”

‘Professional Rorting’

In Monday’s hearing, officials from the Infrastructure Department said they were not aware of any fringe seat lists and denied making politically motivated decisions on a “targeting strategy for the government. electorate”.

“The department would not treat a document with that kind of a title,” said department secretary Simon Atkinson.

“To the best of my knowledge, no one in the department had, or now has, this document.”

However, Katy Gallagher of the Labor Party claimed that there was “a professional landfill unit running out of [the Prime Minister’s Office]After ANAO claimed the involvement of Scott Morrison’s office.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Photo: Getty

Ministry officials denied that there was nothing unusual about the program, saying open tenders and nominations were often not used for “national partnership agreements” between federal governments. and states.

The audit office previously reported that out of 47 approved projects, none had been recommended by the Ministry of Infrastructure.

Instead, they were pushed by coalition MPs or senators, or candidates in the 2019 election.

“Ministers and two ministerial officers managed the canvassing process,” said Brian Boyd, head of ANAO.

The construction fund heavily favored seats held by the Coalition and ignored areas most in need, according to the ANAO report.

Some 77 percent of the projects were in Liberal-owned seats and 64 percent were in Melbourne.

This despite the fact that the ANAO notes that “the majority of Australia’s most congested roads [are] located in Sydney ”, and that most Melbourne projects were in the city’s southeast, not the most congested northwest.

The “best performing” electorates were held by Liberal MP Tim Wilson and Ministers Michael Sukkar, Josh Frydenberg and David Coleman.

More than half of the grants were chosen the day before the government went into interim mode in the 2019 election.

Ten suburban parking projects were not even attached to stations.

ANAO also reported that Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s office was involved in planning related to the program, using “the same person” linked to the government’s “sports activities” scandal over community club grants.

The Treasury pushed for an open and competitive bidding process, but the infrastructure department rejected this approach, Boyd said.

“To a certain extent, it almost seemed like there was a menu,” he told the hearing.

“In a number of cases they would have said ‘Here is the electorate, here is the project, here is the dollars’, but in some cases they had not yet identified the project.”

But Mr Atkinson defended the program, saying the fund was a “partnership” between federal and state governments, which would not regularly go through an open process.

“It would be unusual in a national partnership to have an open competitive process,” he said.

“It would be normal for subsidy programs, but they are not subsidy programs.”

Labor and coalition senators continuously traded pikes throughout the hearing, with Jane Hume, the Minister for Retirement Pensions who represented the Minister for Urban Infrastructure at the hearing, noting earlier instances where she believed Labor governments had incurred similar infrastructure spending.

“Two wrongs do not make a right,” replied Senator Rice.

“Australians are fed up with rorting. “

Senator Gallagher also raised her objections against Coalition senators, describing the ANAO report as “misleading” and “insane” after criticizing it for not investigating what they claimed to be similar decisions taken by former Labor governments.

-with AAP