Regional Jobs and Investment Packages

November 11, 2019

The point I'd make, Senator Scarr, is that if this audit report was so good why was it released an hour before the Melbourne Cup? If it's so good, why didn't they release it so everyone could pay attention to it? They tried to bury it. This was done before the Melbourne Cup because they're embarrassed by the rorts it identifies that those opposite have partaken in. That's exactly what it does. It is telling that the Deputy Prime Minister was hanging out with the inner-city lunatics when it was released. He likes to say they're inner-city lunatics. Where was he? He was at the Melbourne Cup. This morning he said that the inner-city lunatics are so out of touch, yet there he was at the Melbourne Cup hanging out with them on the day this audit report was released.

I don't begrudge him having a day off and going to the races. Good luck to him. But he needs to be held accountable for what this report says. There is a history to these packages. They were announced in the lead-up to the 2016 election, and we know in regional parts of Australia, and I know in regional Queensland, that there are significant job challenges. They announced these packages throughout regional Queensland in the lead-up to the 2016 election, yet they sat on them for 12 months. They did not announce the guidelines, they did not spend one cent, they did not create one job for 12 months after that election and they said, 'We're working on the guidelines.'

After they sat on it for so long—they didn't spend a cent and it didn't create one job—we see the reality of what they created, through this audit process that highlights serious problems with this program. We see that as many as 64 applications deemed eligible by the department were rejected, and they favoured, in what could only be called political decision-making, their preferred proponents of some of these projects. We see the history of these programs and the fact that regional Australians are desperate for jobs, and this is the way they are treated by the government. They don't take these things seriously. They sought to bury this report on Melbourne Cup day. The Deputy Prime Minister himself—and you would have to question his judgement after his behaviour over the last couple of weeks—was at the Melbourne Cup when it was released.

This project, dreamt up by the National Party, has failed to deliver for regional Queenslanders. That is what the Audit Office identifies today. As to the projects throughout regional Queensland that were supported, there's been no transparency about why some of those projects were rejected or why decisions were made to favour some projects over others, and there's been a failure to account for how many jobs could've been created if other projects were supported at the expense of the ones the National Party focused on to deliver.

There's no doubt that, after winning that election in 2016, this government went into hibernation on these projects. Clearly, they scrambled, behind the scenes, to try and get guidelines in place, which they've then gone about ignoring as part of the process of identifying which projects were going to get funding at the expense of others. Now that it's been exposed, we see sitting members try and justify the projects that were supported. We've seen that with Ken O'Dowd in Flynn and with Llew O'Brien in Wide Bay. They've tried to highlight some of the projects that were supported, but what they haven't done is give any justification for the projects that were rejected. There's been no evidence provided nor any correspondence back to proponents who put forward proposals that the department supported and ticked off on yet were rejected on political grounds.

That is what happened as part of this process: projects in areas throughout regional Queensland that needed jobs on the ground—projects that the department said they had approved—were rejected through the political process that was set up by those opposite. And it's actually the local chambers of commerce and local business representatives that are calling on the government to provide answers. We've seen that in Bowen, Gladstone, Gympie and throughout various parts of regional Queensland. This program was supposed to provide regional jobs, and we've seen no correspondence and no effort by the government to explain why some projects were rejected. We will absolutely hold them to account because we want to ensure regional Queenslanders get a fair deal. (Time expired)