Statement from Cathy McGowan
Today I have called for the Auditor-General of the Australian National Audit Office Mr Grant Hehir to investigate the process of Building Better Regions Fund grant announcements made for the electorate of Indi on Monday.
I am concerned about what appears to be the politicisation of taxpayer-funded grants and the impact on my communities.
A number of the successful applicants were contacted informally by the Government for the purpose of arranging media events on Monday. Those contacted were also advised they should not discuss Monday’s announcements with me – their elected representative – or other third parties.
I understand local applicants to the Building Better Regions Fund received no formal notification from the Department of Infrastructure, Regional Development and Cities or the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science about whether their grant applications had been successful. Despite repeated requests, I am yet to receive a formal notification of the grant recipients.
Although an embargo on the announcement of grant recipients was in place, I understand some media
organisations were given advanced notice of Monday’s announcements. This meant grant applicants
were contacted by journalists and in some cases, this was the first time they had heard about their
successful grant applications. The absence of a formal notification process resulted in significant confusion and distress for local grant applicants.
I am also concerned that taxpayer-funded grants are being used for party political purposes by the Federal Government. A photograph published on social media shows Monday’s announcements were used to promote the campaign of the National Party and Liberal Party candidates for Indi.
The $3.4 million worth of Commonwealth grants for Indi are not gifts from individual MPs, political candidates or the Government. These are highly competitive regional development and infrastructure grants, made by the Australian Government under the taxpayer-funded Building Better Regions Fund.
By arranging for the unelected candidate to “announce” these grants without due process and transparency, the Government appears to have used taxpayer dollars for their own political purposes.
The BBRF is one of the major funding streams for communities. There is legitimate interest in the decision-making and announcement process. My office has been working since last year with many of the applicants with the appropriate correspondence and advocacy and it is in the interests of all involved for the Auditor-General to investigate this matter.