By Angela Dorizas
The independent audit into the Federal Government's regional and local community infrastructure program was "politically motivated", the head of the Australian Local Government Association (ALGA) has said.
ALGA president Geoff Lake slammed the report by the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) as lacking balance and objectivity.
“I can’t understand why a report of this nature is released in the second week of an election campaign,” Cr Lake told Government News.
“It is poor timing. It seems politically motivated.”
The Regional and Local Community Infrastructure Program (RLCIP) was first introduced by the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government in late 2008 to stimulate the local economy in the wake of the global financial crisis.
The ANAO last week released its assessment of the design and administration of the Strategic Projects component of the RLCIP.
Among the many findings, the ANAO reported higher approval rates for projects in Labor held electorates compared to those in Coalition held seats.
On this finding, Cr Lake accused the ANAO of “trying to breathe conspiracy theory” into the program’s assessment.
“There isn’t a conspiracy here,” Cr Lake said.
“It doesn’t surprise me that there is a high percentage of successful councils in Labor electorates because this part of the stimulus funding favoured large metropolitan councils and those councils are disproportionately in Labor electorates, compared to smaller councils which are disproportionately in conservative electorates.
“That’s a far more compelling, far more satisfying explanation for how the funding was allocated, rather than the thinly veiled allegation in the audit report which was that there was some kind of political fix to how the money was distributed.”
Cr Lake said the ANAO report was “process obsessed”, focussing on the way in which the Strategic Projects grants were assessed, with little to no consideration of the wider benefits flowing from the funding.
“This has basically led to disproportionate judgements being reached in the report that are unreasonably harsh,” he said.
Cr Lake also disputed the audit’s finding that there was no clear communication of the assessment criteria for Strategic Projects applications.
“Councils were pleased that there wasn’t onerous restrictions or criteria around what was or wasn’t a suitable project,” he said.
“The criteria that was shared with councils, whilst it was not overly detailed, it was clear.”
Cr Lake said there had been no significant process concerns from councils, other than the challenges of meeting specified deadlines.
“I think we need to remember that this isn’t an annual program,” he added.
“This is a program that was put together at short notice in order to stimulate the economy.
“We need to bear that in mind in assessing the program.”
I feel compelled to comment, having read the report from the ANAO and being a council that has been looking for answers as to why our application was not successful in either round of the RLCIP Strategic Funding.
I found that the report gave these answers and given my council spent valuable time and money on preparing a quality application that met all the criteria requested and then to read that the original criteria was thrown out and new sets of criteria put in place that basically meant we were ineligible was astounding.
I question which councils Cr Lake spoke to before stating “there had been no significant process concerns from councils, other than the challenges of meeting specified deadlines”.
My Council has significant process concerns in that the application guidelines clearly stated that incomplete applications would not be considered and this was not the case.
The original guidelines made no mention that councils with a population less than 10,000 would not be considered and our council having a population of just less than 10,000 is one of these. I would assume that there are a lot of other councils in this same position.
I do agree with Cr Lake that there was clear communication of assessment criteria but the problem was that the Government did not use this criteria. Also, this criteria was not onerous. Therefore only applications that were complete should have been considered.
I do not believe the audit was “politically motivated” but that the media only picked up the section that they could use for political motivation. It would have been much more interesting to read what comments would have been received from councils similar to ours if the media had reported the other findings in the report that relate to why smaller councils, who believed they would all be considered on their merits based on the original criteria, failed to get past first base.
Director Corporate and Community Services
Renmark Paringa Council, South Australia
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