The myth of John Howard's "good economic management" is exposed yet again as "corrupt economic management". The Australian reports (Coalition accused of abusing grants) that "the Auditor-General has exposed unprecedented government abuse of a $328 million grants program, undermining the Coalition's credentials as a careful financial manager nine days before the federal election."
A damning report shows that a third of the money from the controversial Regional Partnerships Program from 2003 to last year was pumped into just 10 rural Coalition seats - including one held by John Anderson, who as minister for transport and regional services had ultimate responsibility for the scheme.
It found some ministers were more likely to overrule departmental opposition to specific projects if the applications came from Coalition seats, and more likely to knock back funding for projects supported by the department if they were from Labor seats.
John Anderson's seat of Gwydir hosts the infamous methanol plant of Gunnedah that never was. PM (Long wait for Gunnedah ethanol plant) reports:
MARK COLVIN: An empty field in north-western New South Wales provides one example of federal money spent under the Regional Partnerships program. The Federal Government's given a Gunnedah-based company more than a million dollars. The aim, to help build a plant to turn locally grown grain to fuel. Locals are enthusiastic about the possible benefits if the plant is built but several years later they're still waiting.
BRENDAN TREMBATH: About seven kilometres out of Gunnedah there's a site for a much talked about project, a refinery to turn grain into ethanol. Gary Lindfield has a landscaping business nearby and describes what you'd see if you walked past the planned plant.
GARY LINDFIELD: As far as I know on the proposed site there hasn't been a sod turned. So, you won't see anything at the moment, no.
That's right, the area is as windswept as it ever was.
The Age (Rort claims: PM looking down the barrel) continues the theme:
The auditor found Government ministers had awarded grants:
For projects that had not been properly assessed.
For projects that government departments had advised against.
To groups that had never even applied for funding.
One group said it "remained a mystery" how its grant had been announced before it had even finished its proposal.
And in a finding seized on by Labor, the audit office confirmed a 2005 report by The Australian Financial Review that the office of the then Nationals leader, John Anderson, had lobbied in favour of a proposed ethanol plant in his electorate — defying a convention for ministers to refrain from involvement in applications from their own electorates.
The lobbying was done by Mr Anderson's then chief of staff, Peter Langhorne, who is now an adviser to the Prime Minister.
If this doesn't sink the John Howard Party and its contempt for ethics, then you have to wonder what would.
The Age continues:
… projects under the Regional Partnerships Program were rushed through without proper assessment — or any at all. And it said there was a "surge" in grant approvals just before the 2004 election date was announced.
Sixteen grants worth a total of $3.5 million were approved in 51 minutes, from 3.25pm to 4.16pm, by the then parliamentary secretary for regional services, De-Anne Kelly, before the Government went into pre-election caretaker mode at 5pm the same day.
Confirming the sheer moral ignorance of the government, De-Anne Kelly has decided to shoot the messenger:
"If you talk about mismanagement, I think the taxpayers should have more worries about the Australian National Audit Office."
Come again? Well, what do we expect. Simon Crean says these rorts border on the criminal. But he's a nice guy. They are criminal and they should be prosecuted. In America, the Democrats have promised to prosecute George W. Bush for his crimes, long after he leaves the presidency. Labor in Australia should do the same to John Howard and his henchmen.
UPDATE: As reported on today's The World Today (transcript not yet online), Mark Vaile received the Auditor General's report in October, thus making him look more stupid than he already is when he questions the timing of the report's release. As Senator Andrew Murray says, "The Auditor-General is independent, the timing of this is no more significant than the Reserve Bank making their decision on interest rates. When the time comes to release reports, the Auditor-General releases them, and it's without fear or favour and that's how it should be." Read more: Labor demands explanation on 'pork-barrelling'.