Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Retribution or reconstruction?

The temptation for paybacks for a new government must be enormous, but is generally counterbalance by other considerations. The concept has been on my mind with various calls to prosecute Bush and key members of his administration. We are actually watching the same dynamic working out in Australia.

My local member and former Deputy Prime Minister, Mark Vaile, is exposed on a number of fronts, notably the AWB scandal and the Regional Partnerships rorts. But the Rudd government, despite some election posturing, has steered clear of any frontal attack on the hapless Vaile; perhaps just watching him suffer deep depression as an opposition backbencher has its own rewards.

But Rudd’s government has generally taken a forward looking position, restructuring the countries economy following the Howard years. There is another reason new governments tend to gloss over sins of the past, it doesn’t do to encourage a convention of which hunts which would most likely come back to haunt them.

Even so, with the final axing of the Regional Partner Program in last weeks budget the government is copping a fair bit of flack; most of it unwarranted, and as politically charged as the former program itself. Despite the merits of many community project submissions axed the program was seriously flawed.

Regional Partner Program

I first came familiar with the program during the heady days leading up to last year’s election. I had just started in a position researching and developing local funding proposals. My first task was to source funding for a small but valuable program originally set up under a one off grant. It was relative peanuts, about $30,000.

So I dived into the various grant programs available and quickly recognised Regional Partnerships is the ideal target. But I delivered my recommendation with a rider; this is a very political program, it is pork barreling at its most flagrant and it is run by our local member – get the submission in quickly, before the election is called.

Sadly my agency is so used to the standard submission process the need for haste wasn’t recognised. It’s a good project and shouldn’t need to be subject to the pork barrel. The submission was sent just after the election was called and a few days before the Auditor General delivered a damning report of the regional grant program.

After the election the submission was returned with instructions for new submission requirements, and then the program was suspended. Finally it was axed in the budget. Call me cynical, but if a small slice of the dubious pie was available for a worthy project I was all for it.

An inquiry

An inquiry has now been launched into the program which funded numerous commercial projects which never actually eventuated. The money was paid out for nothing. Still many good projects have suffered, though I find it hard to believe many of those complaining now did not understand what was happening.

Many claim that their projects had been approved and so they had spent money undertaking various works. I suspect those ‘approvals’ were little more than the reassurance of the various National Party local members involved. One partly completed program even has a commonwealth government sign on it, even though there is no clear suggestion of a written approval.

The inquiry will search for evidence that the coalition continued to misuse the program after the period covered by the Audit Office's review. The House of Representatives Standing Committee on Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government will conduct the inquiry, which will make recommendations on how future regional development funds should be administered.

So far the Rudd government has refused to openly attack Vaile and his colleagues on this one, and the inquiry doesn’t look like it will go down that road either. But given the bleating from some highly political, jilted ‘partners’ the dumping might need to happen just for self protection.


D.K. Raed said...

I assume funding for many worthy projects has become scarce, given tight budget constraints. Over here, we can't seem to spare a cent for anything except billions for unnecessary war & war profiteers. It shouldn't be so hard to squeeze out money for much-needed social improvements. If only the taxpayers themselves could decide!

Cart, don't hate me, but I tagged you for blog meme. You don't have to do anything. Just stop by & read my responses. I had fun with it. You might ... or not.

Cart said...

"I assume funding for many worthy projects" The funding is still there, but it comes with the risk of driving inflation.
I think Australians would even wear that, as long as they were worthy projects.
As it is we are looking at situations where hospitals cannot afford medicines.
Some of the money spent on pork barreling here would have better served in the health system. And the result of that profligate spending is helping drive our current inflation threat.

Ok, you always grovel so nicely. Its not something I put my hand up for, but a change is as good as a holiday :(