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JOINT MEDIA RELEASE
Senator the Hon Richard Alston
Minister for Communications, Information
Technology and the Arts
Senator the Hon Robert Hill
Minister for the Environment
Labor's credibility is again in tatters.
Labor last year demanded the Auditor-General investigate its claims of "political bias" in the allocation of Federation Cultural and Heritage Projects Program grants.
The Auditor-General has done so, and his report destroys Labor's claims.
The highly successful FCHP program funded 60 significant projects across Australia worth $70.4 million.
The Auditor General's rejection of Labor's allegations of political bias in the distribution of grants is clear, finding that the percentage of grants which went to Coalition or Labor seats simply reflected the number of seats held by the parties prior to the election.
He specifically states:
"The pattern of approvals for the number and value of grants approved reflected the proportion of electorates held by the major parties and independents in the House of Representatives at the time the decisions to approve the grants were made. In addition an analysis of the distribution of approvals by political party showed the variation in the success rate for projects from electorates held by different political parties was not significantly different to that which could have been expected from the pattern of applications."The Auditor General's analysis has found that there were more than twice as many applications from Coalition electorates (485) as there were from Labor (216). Despite this, the success rate for approvals compared with applications was actually higher in Labor seats than Coalition seats.
Labor's baseless claims that these projects only received funding because of political interference were an insult to the hard working community groups and local councils which backed the projects.
Labor must now apologise to these groups.
Contrary to repeated claims by the ALP and some media outlets, the Auditor General has found that "all approved projects were eligible [for funding] under the program guidelines."
The Auditor General has also rejected claims that the Government had breached the caretaker convention:
"Given that the decision to approve the grants was made prior to the start of the caretaker convention their announcement during the lead up to the October 1998 election was not a breach of the convention."Labor has suffered further embarrassment with its claims of bias toward Coalition marginal seats.
The Auditor General has found that "marginal Labor seats had almost twice the success rate of marginal Coalition held seats."
The Auditor General also reported there were almost five times as many applications from Coalition marginals than there were from Labor marginals.
His analysis shows that that 189 applications were received from Coalition-held marginal seats with 14 being approved - a success rate of 7.4%.
In contrast, only 39 applications were received from Labor-held marginals with 5 being approved - a success rate of 12.8%.
The Auditor General has also found that 16 projects given a lower ranking by officials but approved by the Ministers were all eligible for funding. He states:
"Ministers have the right to form their own judgements and not simply 'rubber stamp' any advice they may receive from officials" and that "it is not uncommon for Ministers to disagree with the advice or recommendations given to them by officials or seek advice from a range of different sources."He also found that the proportion of approvals of these 16 projects "reflected the pattern of applications from electorates held by the major parties."
Labor has branded these 16 projects as "shonks" - despite the fact that five of them come from Labor held electorates.
It is now up to the ALP to say which of these 16 projects it wants to take funding away from - perhaps the Townsend House school for sight and hearing impaired children or from the collection commemorating Australia's world famous Antarctic explorer Sir Douglas Mawson?
Labor can no longer sustain its unfounded allegations of bias in the allocation of grants under this program. It should drag itself out of the gutter and apologise to the community groups across Australia who have been smeared in this cheap political point scoring exercise.
It is clear that Labor will continue to try to denigrate these projects. While not required to by the Auditor General, the Ministers have released a full list of projects along with their documented reasons for approval. These reasons have been on the official record and have been examined by the Auditor General in making his finding that no full audit of the program is required.
Matt Brown, Senator Hill's office 02 6277 7640
Sasha Grebe, Senator Alston's office 02 6277 7480
3 February 2000