McGowan calls for probe

Mansfield Courier - - Front Page -

CATHY McGowan (MHR, Indi) has called for the Au­di­tor-Gen­eral of the Aus­tralian Na­tional Au­dit Of­fice, Grant He­hir, to in­ves­ti­gate the process of Build­ing Bet­ter Re­gions Fund grant an­nounce­ments made for the elec­torate of Indi on Mon­day.

Her con­cerns were raised af­ter the an­nounce­ment on Mon­day by Sen­a­tor Brid­get McKen­zie of $3.45 mil­lion from the fund des­tined for the Indi elec­torate without Ms McGowan be­ing ad­vised.

One of the an­nounce­ments made on the day was held in Wan­garatta where Sen­a­tor McKen­zie was joined by Coali­tion lower house can­di­dates Mark By­att (Nats) and Steven Mar­tin (Libs).

“I am con­cerned about what ap­pears to be the politi­ci­sa­tion of tax­payer-funded grants and the im­pact on my com­mu­ni­ties,” Ms McGowan said.

“I un­der­stand lo­cal ap­pli­cants to the Build­ing Bet­ter Re­gions Fund re­ceived no for­mal no­ti­fi­ca­tion about whether their grant ap­pli­ca­tions had been suc­cess­ful and de­spite re­peated re­quests, I am yet to re­ceive a for­mal no­ti­fi­ca­tion of the grant re­cip­i­ents.

“I am also con­cerned that tax­payer-funded grants are be­ing used for party po­lit­i­cal pur­poses by the Fed­eral Govern­ment.

“A pho­to­graph pub­lished on so­cial me­dia shows Mon­day’s an­nounce­ments were used to pro­mote the cam­paign of the Na­tional Party and Lib­eral Party can­di­dates for Indi.”

Ms McGowan said the $3.4 mil­lion worth of Com­mon­wealth grants for Indi were not gifts from in­di­vid­ual MPs, po­lit­i­cal can­di­dates or the govern­ment but highly com­pet­i­tive re­gional de­vel­op­ment and in­fra­struc­ture grants, made by the Aus­tralian Govern­ment un­der the tax­payer-funded Build­ing Bet­ter Re­gions Fund.

“By ar­rang­ing for the un­elected can­di­date to “an­nounce” these grants without due process and trans­parency, the govern­ment ap­pears to have used tax­payer dol­lars for their own po­lit­i­cal pur­poses,” Ms McGowan said.

“My of­fice has been work­ing since last year with many of the ap­pli­cants with the ap­pro­pri­ate cor­re­spon­dence and ad­vo­cacy and it is in the in­ter­ests of all in­volved for the Au­di­tor-Gen­eral to in­ves­ti­gate this mat­ter.”

Mr By­att said he has been aware of and sup­port­ive of many of these is­sues for months and years, hav­ing pre­vi­ously been mayor of Wodonga and ad­vo­cat­ing for the North East with Re­gional De­vel­op­ment Vic­to­ria.

Sen­a­tor McKen­zie said the govern­ment’s process for de­cid­ing BBRF grants has re­mained the same for all rounds, and she was con­fi­dent there is no is­sue for the Aus­tralian Na­tional Au­dit Of­fice.

“Many vol­un­teers spend count­less hours pre­par­ing ap­pli­ca­tions to ap­ply for govern­ment fund­ing for projects,” she said.

“These ap­pli­ca­tions have the sup­port of many peo­ple in­clud­ing can­di­dates, state MPs, lo­cal coun­cil­lors and com­mu­nity lead­ers.”

Asked why Ms McGowan was not in­formed of the grants be­fore their an­nounce­ment on Mon­day, Sen­a­tor McKen­zie said as a Na­tion­als Sen­a­tor for Vic­to­ria and a fed­eral min­is­ter it was ap­pro­pri­ate for her to make the an­nounce­ment on be­half of the govern­ment.

PHOTO: Jeff Zeuschner

THE WAY WE WERE: Sen­a­tor for Vic­to­ria Brid­get McKen­zie (right) and Cathy McGowan (MHR, Indi), pic­tured side-by-side at a fund­ing an­nounce­ment for men­tal health in Wan­garatta in Jan­uary, are not see­ing eye to eye on the process of this week’s fund­ing an­nounce­ments in Indi

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