15 February 2021




SUBJECTS: Peter Dutton’s misuse of taxpayer funds; Safer Seats Rorts; Scott Morrison is not on your side.

MARCUS PAUL, HOST: But the dramas keep coming for Scott Morrison, or as Albo calls him, Promo and his team. The latest being that the Home Affairs Minister, Peter Dutton, charged you and I, simple taxpayers more than $36,000 to charter a Royal Australian Air Force jet to Tasmania to make a grants announcement for CCTV systems for two Councils during the 2018 Braddon by-election campaign. Is that an appropriate use of taxpayer money? Remember, Julie Bishop, Bronwyn Bishop, I'm sorry, Julie, Bronwyn Bishop found herself into trouble in trouble for hiring helicopters. 

To join us to talk about this and other issues, Senator Kristina Keneally. Good morning, Kristina and thank you for your time.


PAUL: Alright. At the time, Mr Dutton announced the grants for Burnie and Waratah-Wynyard Councils worth a combined $195,000 back in July 2018, a month before the rules for the third round of the Safer Communities Fund were published and applications opened. Again, this thing stinks. It really does. And it's just, I think it's the tip of the iceberg for this lot.

KENEALLY: Marcus, you couldn't have put it better. I mean, here we've got this grant program that is supposed to be about giving communities at risk the safety equipment that they need: CCTV cameras, fencing, bollards, that kind of thing. And before they'd even opened the applications, before they'd even published the rules for the grant. Minister Dutton decided in the middle of a by-election, he was going to just give away two grants. Now, no doubt those communities welcome the money, I don't begrudge the communities.


KENEALLY: No, not at all. What I what I am just ropeable about, though, is the way in which the Liberal Party is treating taxpayer money like it is Liberal Party money. And I think it's important that your viewers, your listeners understand this, that this isn't some one-off, I mean, you remember the Sports Rorts, which is much the same thing.

PAUL: Yep.

KENEALLY: Scott Morrison when he was Treasurer, and he's continued it as Prime Minister, set up all the grant programs in the Budget. They have very few rules. Some of them don't even have applications, you have to be invited by the Morrison Liberal Government to apply. And the money is given away at the complete discretion of Ministers, usually at the most electorally appropriate time, right in the middle of election campaigns. This is your money, this is my money, it's taxpayer money. How can the Liberals be looking after the taxpayers, when they're so busy looking after themselves?

PAUL: Well, you talking about the same party that seems to think it's appropriate to whack Liberal paraphernalia on official documentation in relation to COVID-19 vaccines? I mean, well...

KENEALLY: I mean, and what a, what a, extraordinary partisan effort there to, you know, make the vaccine a political tool for the Liberal Party. And let's not forget when the bushfires were still raging last summer, Scott Morrison rolled out an Australian Defence Force Liberal Party ad with a move that actually made the Chief of the Defence Force, Angus Campbell, quite discomforted, were his words. This politicisation, and this treating taxpayer resources, like the vaccine, which we’re paying for, the taxpayer, like the Defence Force, in the middle of a crisis, in a bushfire crisis or the health crisis, Scott Morrison thinks nothing of creating Liberal Party advertising to back in himself and his mates.

PAUL: Is this? I mean, look, I’m going to just say it here. I don’t think this is just at a Federal level. NSW, the State Government here in NSW are up to the same thing. They call it good old fashioned pork-barrelling. And the Premier and the Deputy Premier of the state of NSW seem to consider it’s all a part of the status quo of operations and there’s nothing to see here. Let’s move on. I’ve dealt with that issue. Now it’s time to divert attention away from something else. I mean it’s very clear here that ahead of the 2019 Election, Departmental documents show that Peter Dutton diverted nearly half of the funding in the grants program to hand-picked projects ahead of the 2019 Election. Where have we heard this before? It's, it's pork-barrelling. It's buying votes. The State Government in New South Wales and the Gladys Berejiklian. The Liberals did exactly the same thing here in this state. And we're supposed to cop it and move on, as you know, we dealt with this last week?

KENEALLY: No, we're not and that's why in my role as Shadow Minister for Government Accountability, it's my job and that of all my colleagues, while we are in Opposition to hold this Government to account because this is taxpayer money. If I can put this in context, because I imagine there'll be some of your listeners that get the age pension. And let's just say this, Peter Dutton spent $36,000 for a 24-hour trip to Tasmania to announce these grants in the middle of a by-election. The age pension is about $24,000 a year, he spent one and a half times what some people in our community have to live on in a whole year he spent in 24 hours now. I mean, that is just arrogant, it is out of touch. It is inappropriate. It’s waste and mismanagement. And quite frankly this is why I, last week, wrote to the Auditor-General and asked him to investigate this in the same way that he investigated Sports Rorts. Because it is one thing in a sports funding scheme to say ‘oh, you don’t get a pool, but this community does’, ‘you don’t get a playing field, but this community does,’ but to say to communities that are at risk of crime or other types of danger, to say ‘sorry, you’re not getting a CCTV system, I’m going to give that money to this community over here that is lower-ranked in the priority list for safety but higher-ranked for my Liberal Party interest.’ I mean, that’s just grotesque. I mean, this is taxpayer money that is meant to help communities be safer, not meant to help the Liberal Party make seats safer for themselves.

PAUL: And, as we know, it always comes with the obligatory photo opportunity--- I know the way it works, Kristina. I’ve been around a long bloody time. For me, personally, I know it’s different circumstances for you. But for me personally it’s not about which party does it or who does it. It’s about the mismanagement of public funds. We work damn hard in this country for what we get. We’re overtaxed. We pay a whole range of taxes, and that’s because we expect the standard of living that we have. And, yes, I mean ultimately, despite some issues, we do very well here in Australia. But what I don’t like seeing, and it’s something that’s happened from old, tired Liberal Governments, whether it’s at NSW or a Federal level, the kind of rorting and pork-barrelling that’s going on to keep people in power, when they damn-well know that the money should be diverted to all Australians. Just because you didn’t vote for the LNP in a certain electorate does not mean that your electorate, your area, you and your fellow community, don’t deserve the same use of taxpayer money that others do.

KENEALLY: Absolutely, and you know, right now, when we’re in the middle of an economic crisis where so many people are struggling, Australians deserve accountability and transparency and integrity in their government.

PAUL: More now than ever!

KENEALLY: More now than ever. You’re so right. And more than 2 years ago Scott Morrison promised a National Integrity Commission. He has not delivered it. This eight-year-old Liberal Government has failed to deliver a National Integrity Commission and, quite frankly they’re not on the side of the Australian people. 

PAUL: Well it’s all about the photo opportunity, Kristina.

KENEALLY: Always there for the photo opp, never there for the follow-up.

PAUL: It’s all about getting your backside sitting in a fighter jet and having your personal photographer at a number of events just to get it out there on social media and to keep feeding people the same misinformation. Look again. We appreciate and we applaud the money that is being spent in many areas in Australia. What we don’t appreciate is the fact that is seems to be to favourites. Favouritism has no place when it comes to delving out public funds. It's meant to be for all of us, evenly, as much as possible.

KENEALLY: Absolutely. And right now, we need to get to the bottom of what communities miss out. What communities are less safe today because the Liberal Party and Peter Dutton are treating this taxpayer money like it's Liberal Party money. 

PAUL: Kristina, do you believe that Scott Morrison will call an early ballot this year?

KENEALLY: Well, there's a suspicious hole in the parliamentary sitting calendar later this year, which is perfectly timed for an election campaign, but you know, that'll be up to Scott Morrison. We know that he always acts in his best interests. We know that he does what he thinks is the best for him, not best for the Australian people. So yeah, he will--- he'll make a political call, as he always does. But you know, there's a lot of pain coming down the pipeline for Australians. Right now. We've got this Industrial Relations Bill that Scott Morrison's put for the Parliament that allows employers to cut wages. We have the JobKeeper, which is ending next month, we've got 1.6 million people on JobKeeper in this country. It's been an absolute lifeline. And the Liberals and Scott Morrison are reverting to type. They're cutting that off next month. They are allowing employers to cut wages with their Industrial Relations Bill. This is classic Liberal Party playbook. They are reverting to type. And you know, when we think about what are the same people need right now? Yes, they need transparency and accountability in government. They also need secure jobs with their pay and their conditions protected. They need to have a plan for economic recovery. They need, frankly, national leadership as well, on the vaccine and on international borders. I mean, where is this vaccine? Scott Morrison said we'd be at the front of the queue.

PAUL: It’s coming next week. And then, who knows, it’ll probably come the week after that.

KENEALLY: Well he promised 4 million of us would be vaccinated by mid-March. I mean, honestly, we aren’t even going to have 4 million doses in the country by mid-March. So it's, you know, this Government, you know, it is the triumph of announcement over delivery. And unfortunately, it's the Australians that are getting left behind and you know, really Australians now more than ever and need a government that's on their side and that's what Anthony Albanese and Labor are laying out.

PAUL: Alright. Kristina it’s good to have you on the program, let’s talk again very soon.

KENEALLY: Thanks Marcus, you too. Cheers.