Tasmania’s treasurer will be grilled by a parliamentary committee over how the Liberals funded subsidies during the 2021 election campaign, with concerns over “pork barrel” claims and a lack of transparency.
- For several months, the government has been under increasing scrutiny as to how it provides subsidies during elections
- The Danish Parliament’s accounting committee has now launched an investigation
- Hearings begin on Monday with Treasurer Michael Ferguson listed as the first witness
The government has been under increasing pressure over the allocation of $15 million in taxpayer funds, including $2.47 million covering 111 projects, which have not undergone parliamentary scrutiny.
In one example, a Liberal candidate announced a $100,000 grant to a volleyball club he was involved with.
After heated debate in Parliament this week – including allegations that ministers misled Parliament – a joint parliamentary committee will investigate the issue.
Treasurer Michael Ferguson and Finance Minister Tony Ferrall will be questioned by the parliamentary accounts committee on Monday.
Committee chair, independent Upper House member Ruth Forrest, said the issue had been “on the radar” since the Integrity Commission released a report at the 2018 election, raising concerns about a lack of process and public scrutiny.
She said further recent examples had prompted the committee to undertake an investigation.
“All communities – small communities, large community organizations – should have an equal opportunity to apply to the government for support to lobby their local member or local candidate if you like,” Ms Forrest said.
“Not everyone knows a local member, not everyone knows a candidate, so there may be organizations that don’t have fair and equal access to some of these funds or potential funds.
“I don’t have a problem personally with people [going to the] The government says our club needs it, our club needs it.
“But what is important to follow is a process in which they are assessed against a criterion.”
After the election last May, former Prime Minister Peter Gutwein and senior officials worked quickly to start funding projects under the Local Community Facilities Fund before the end of the financial year.
These projects were not included in any grant or budget proposals due to lack of time.
Instead, Gov. Barbara Baker was asked to sign them off during a contingency fee process under the Financial Management Act.
Ms Forrest said this process was not designed for electoral commitments.
“These kinds of payments should be limited to costs that are unforeseen and unforeseeable, like a natural disaster or another major case that comes up that requires funding,” she said.
Some payments are checked, but often “after the event”.
After the committee – made up of two independent, two Labor and two Liberal MPs – concludes Monday’s hearing, it will use the evidence to determine next steps, which could include questioning other cabinet ministers or officials in the department, most likely next year.
‘Fail, fail, fail, fail, of this government’
The question led to fierce debate in parliament.
The week started with Minister Nic Street confirming he “answered incorrectly” questions about the Local Communities Facilities Fund during the June budget estimates.
He apologized and said he would “never deliberately mislead Parliament”.
Labor attempted to criticize Prime Minister Jeremy Rockliff, claiming he was also misleading Parliament, but this was defeated.
Labor leader Rebecca White said the grant processes in both the 2018 and 2021 elections were worrying, citing an earlier report by the Integrity Commission.
“Decisions on beneficiaries did not meet the following principles: accountability, transparency, fairness or value for money,” she said.
“Fail, fail, fail, fail, by this Government and another failure by the Premier right now who has continued to mislead Tasmanians about the way money was distributed by this Government when it came to delivering on their election promises.
“There was no parliamentary scrutiny through the budget process, which is what the prime minister continues to claim. There was no scrutiny through the budget estimates process, which is what the prime minister continues to claim.”
Sir. Ferguson said the laws had been followed at every stage.
“That process is a valid and legal process under the Financial Management Act,” he said.
“In my role at the time as Chancellor of the Exchequer, I said when debating the Supply Act 2021 that the Financial Management Act provides flexibility to enable the Government to fund election commitments before the Appropriations Act is passed.”
The government’s election commitment process has come under fire from the Center for Public Integrity, which describes it as an extreme version of the federal “sports rorts” saga.