ABC RADIO MELBOURNE
THURSDAY, 16 DECEMBER 2021
SUBJECTS: Morrison Government’s corrupt allocation of grants funds to Liberal-held and marginal seats; Labor’s call for a Federal ICAC.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI, HOST: I'm sure you've been following the quite incredible deep dive and research that the Nine papers, including The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald, have gone into looking at the handing out of federal grants to, would you believe it? Key marginal and Liberal held seats across the country and then receiving what, five six, seven, eight times the amount of money as Labor held seats in comparable areas across the country. Looking at the Victorian situation in particular, across nine connected Labor held seats in Melbourne's west, local members attracted $14.4 million dollars’ worth of grants over three years. It's not bad. It's almost $15 million. But across nine connected liberal held seats in Melbourne's east, local members there attracted $86.4 million dollars. Those grants over three years. So, nine connected Liberal held seats versus nine connected Labor held seats. One of them is the seat of Maribyrnong, the federal seat of Maribyrnong, and that's held by Bill Shorten, who's the federal Labor member and well known to you. Mr Shorten, good to talk to you. Good morning.
BILL SHORTEN, MEMBER FOR MARIBYRNONG: Good morning, Virginia.
TRIOLI: Had you done your own sort of totting up of what you'd received in federal grants before the Nine papers had a look?
SHORTEN: We were aware, and I was aware, that seats that voted Labor got punished by the Government, but this is - to be honest, even I was surprised at this quite extraordinary piece of old fashioned investigative journalism doing the analysis. There's almost like a Berlin Wall across the Yarra as far as the federal Liberal Party are concerned. And if you're not in an area where the Liberals can count on your vote, they just treat you like you’re second class. It is - I actually think it's shocking, and it's just going to further depress people's view about politics. It’s just bad at every level.
TRIOLI: 19,000 grants across 11 programs found Coalition seats received $1.9 billion in three years - that's with a B - while Labor electorates got less than $530 million. Are there or were there some projects and potential projects in your seat, Bill Shorten, that could have benefited from some Commonwealth money?
SHORTEN: Absolutely. My electorate covers Moonee Valley and parts of Maribyrnong and Moreland. We have got fewer mental health resources than comparable areas in the East. Our soccer clubs, Aussie Rules, netball, cricket pitches and resources, are less than the Liberals have rewarded some of their own areas with. So, from sport and recreation to community safety to mental health - and also I have to say community safety and even things as mundane as car parks at railway stations.
TRIOLI: Oh, we've heard about those.
SHORTEN: Yeah, well, the problem is that, you know, we fought the last election, it was close and Mr Morrison basically didn't worry about the rules. And now some people might say, that's good politics, you know, isn't that what always happens? But no, this isn't what always happens. This is so out of skew that I think even the most jaded observer of politics would say, you've got to be joking. People in the Northwest and the West and the North of Melbourne pay taxes, just like people in every other part of Melbourne, and no government should have such a one sided approach to the way it treats people. In a democracy, you've got to accept how people vote. You don't punish them.
TRIOLI: Well, look, it gets us to a discussion of some kind of Federal ICAC, and I'll ask you about that in just a moment. But you mentioned in passing there car parks and railway stations. And of course, that program has been highly controversial after the Commonwealth Auditor-General called out the Government's program there.
TRIOLI: Does the Commonwealth Auditor-General have a role to play here in looking at this grant program? In the absence of a Federal ICAC?
SHORTEN: Absolutely, there's - absolutely, but I think both sides of politics need to, and Labor has already committed to this -
SHORTEN: But we need to make sure that when you hand out grants that you work with local government. Local governments know a lot of the granular detail. But what I've noticed in the discretionary scheme run by Mr Morrison and his colleagues is that they're so determined to put politics ahead of people that they don't consult with local government about what they need. So, I think there are ways to stop this happening. Fewer discretionary grants, involve other levels of government, disclose the reasons behind grants. It shouldn't just have to rely on good journalism to uncover some of the rorts which - and we do need an anti-corruption commission.
TRIOLI: Sure, in the absence of that, though, how would that be achieved? What needs to change? Is that a legislative change? Or do you need to change the powers of investigation by, say, the Auditor-General or another body?
SHORTEN: We need to change the Government, first of all, because this current crew, they don't - why should they get a second chance to rip off taxpayer money?
TRIOLI: Yeah alright, look it's fair enough you say that, but let's get to my question about in order to achieve that, to make it more accountable, how do you change the system?
SHORTEN: Oh, I think there's at least three changes. One is, having so many discretionary grants which just get created at budget time and announcements funded, but not - decisions funded, but not announced is just an excuse for them to throw money at a particular rort, so fewer discretionary grants. I do think that if there's going to be funding in local communities for things such as transport, such as sport, such as recreation, such as community safety, you've got to have the, I think, agreement of local or state governments and use their data rather than just making it up. I think the third thing is whenever a decision is made, the Minister or the politician has to sign off and put the reasons. You can't just be there for the sort of big fake cheque presentation and not explain the reason. So, there are three ways. We need an Anti-Corruption Commission because this is corrupt. I'm calling it as it is. This is corrupt. You cannot use such a disproportionate amount of money in pursuit of your own short term political fixes. This is taxpayer money, and the Government has behaved in a most corrupt fashion.
TRIOLI: But if the Nine newspapers or indeed the ABC was to go back and do a deep dive into grants handed out when federal Labor was in power, can you rule out that Labor has never done anything like this when you were in charge? That the money didn't flow, particularly to seats that you either wanted to win that were marginal or that worked in your political interest?
SHORTEN: I have got no doubt that this is the most one-sided display of bad decision making and corruption that we've seen. I saw Anthony Albanese was talking about, in his time with infrastructure grants, that 53 per cent of the grants went to Labor seats, and Labor at that stage held 53 per cent of the seats. So, you know, I can get one or two per cent either way, more or less. Maybe there is a particular naval base or, you know, some major project, but the big ones don't tend to be as discretionary. So no, I don't think Labor has been at the trough in this fashion in the way this current Government has.
TRIOLI: Bill Shorten, as you say, Labor's already on the record supporting some sort of Federal ICAC. If your party does get into power at the next election next year, next year. Would your side guarantee that you'll change those rules about grants being handed out that you just spoke about, those three things that can be done either with or without an ICAC?
SHORTEN: Yes, I've got no doubt that - Labor's already been on the record, making all the three points that I've made. So yes. I mean, I first proposed a Federal ICAC as leader in January 2018. Like, we’re going to be at January 2022. I just say to voters who said, Oh, all parties are as bad as each other. Just draw breath as you have that sort of standard reaction and say, Labor did propose the Federal ICAC four years ago. If we'd won the last election, it would already be in. We've said that we will introduce it as a matter of priority if we get elected in the election, which will probably be March or May of next year. I mean, people are off politics and the major parties. I get that. But one way in which politics can redeem its reputation is by politicians being seen to subject themselves to an Anti-Corruption Commission. I think it's I believe that, and Labor does that.
TRIOLI: It's going to be the only thing; I reckon in a climate like this that in any way lifts -
SHORTEN: It may not be enough.
TRIOLI: Yeah, exactly.
SHORTEN: May not be enough, but it’s a start.
TRIOLI: May not even be enough. That's right. The view of politics for four totally justified reasons so low right now. Bill Shorten, Good to talk to you. Thanks for your time.
SHORTEN: Thanks. Bye.
TRIOLI: Bill Shorten, Federal Labor MP for Maribyrnong.