A parliamentary committee has called on the Prime Minister to explain the role he, his office and other ministers had in a $660 million commuter pre-election car park program.
It was just one of seven recommendations made by the Finance and Public Administration References Committee, which tabled its report within hours of parliament ending its sitting year for 2021.
“It’s time for the PM to be straight with the Australian people about how he has spent their money,” Labor senate Tim Ayres said.
Greens Senator Janet Rice called for the inquiry and accused the Prime Minister of “being up to his neck in it”.
Forty-eight projects were announced in the lead-up to the 2019 poll, the auditor-general has already found government seats were heavily favoured, and projects went to some areas when congestion was worse elsewhere.
The government has denied parliamentary requests to release documents at the centre of the commuter car parks program, with one list crucial.
The Audit Office’s Executive Director Brian Boyd told a senate hearing in July a list of “top 20 marginals” was being shared between the office of the Prime Minister and then Infrastructure Minister Alan Tudge which canvassed MPs and candidates for the car parks they wanted.
But the inquiry heard the canvassing wasn’t just for car parks but also road projects under the broader $4.8 billion Urban Congestion Fund.
The committee’s report said “the entire UCF program is vulnerable to politically motivated misallocations of funding”.
The government has maintained no rules were broken and the Prime Minister has previously said; “I’m telling you, ministers make the decisions as they should. That’s the proper authorisation of the process.”
In responding to the committee’s report, Government senators argued “lack of commuter car parking was recognised as an issue in our big cities”
The inquiries other recommendations include:
- The government conduct a review of the National Land Transport Act with regard to the adequacy of the provisions for Minister approvals for infrastructure projects and programs as part of the UCF
- The Department conduct an evidence-based, consultative analysis into how to best reduce congestion in urban reaps, then making this analysis public and using it to inform all future decision-making within the UCF
Labor wants the Urban Congestion Fund examined under a national integrity commission if it wins the next election.
“This is one of the most egregious uses of taxpayer funding we have seen. In my view this is something that should be investigated by an integrity commission. This would certainly be something I would be referring,” Shadow Infrastructure Minister Catherine King said.
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The Prime Minister is not bound to the recommendation to provide an explanation, nor is there a penalty for not adhering to it.