The urban infrastructure minister, Paul Fletcher, has again defended the Morrison government’s commuter car park scheme as being “very transparent”, while refusing to release the documents which led to marginal seats receiving the bulk of the $660m in funding.
The auditor-general lashed the scheme in a report released mid-year, finding it was “not effective” and projects had been handpicked by the government based on the advice of its own MPs and candidates ahead of the 2019 election.
Almost three years on, just three of the 47 promised car parks have been completed, another four are under construction and six others were cancelled.
Quizzed at the national press club, where he was speaking on internet regulation, Fletcher repeatedly defended the decisions made in the portfolio he inherited in a cabinet reshuffle after the 2019 election.
“We have been very transparent in relation to the car parks program,” he said, while also refusing to release key documents related to the awarding of the projects, including a spreadsheets of key marginal and targeted seats, many of which were in Melbourne.
Fletcher has previously denied the release of the documents by claiming public interest immunity, saying to do so would breach cabinet deliberations and there was no need for the documents to be seen.
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“Alan Tudge made the decisions he did based on the policy and commitment to reduce congestion,” Fletcher said.
Fletcher said the projects were decided on “need”.
Melbourne, where the Morrison government was worried about losing seats ahead of the 2019 election when the commuter car park fund was created, received the biggest slice of the funding pie, with 30 car parks announced.
Fletcher again defended the over-representation of Melbourne projects, which were announced in electorates the Coalition wanted to hold, or win, as necessary given 38% of the population lived beyond walking distance.
But Brisbane, where 52% of the population lives beyond walking distance of public transport, received just five projects. Polls ahead of the 2019 election showed the Queensland capital was swinging towards the Coalition.
Labor’s Andrew Giles said if the projects were really decided on “need” as stated by the government, then Brisbane should have received a better result.
The seat of Kooyong, held by Josh Frydenberg, received $65m in funding when the projects were announced, $5m more than the entire state of Queensland received at the same time.
“Minister Fletcher has tried to defend the misuse of $660m of public money by claiming funding was ‘based on need’,” Giles said.
“But the very evidence he relied on showed that Brisbane had the greatest need of the state capitals, yet only received 10% of the funding.”
Giles said if the projects had truly been decided by need, as Fletcher has maintained, then the spreadsheets and documents used to award the projects should be released.
“Surely they’d be happy to let Australians see the secret spreadsheet they used to make decisions – because they would have nothing to hide,” he said.