The offices of Scott Morrison and Alan Tudge were “central in the coordination” of canvassing of Coalition MPs and candidates” about the location of $660m in commuter car parks promised under the federal government’s controversial pre-election program, an inquiry has found
In a report, tabled on Thursday, a Senate inquiry called on Morrison to provide a personal explanation about his role in the allocation of $660m under the commuter car park fund by 17 December.
It also recommended creation of a national integrity commission and an urgent Australian National Audit Office audit of the wider $4.8bn urban congestion fund (UCF).
The committee chair, Labor senator Tim Ayres, told the Senate on Thursday there was still $890m in the fund “ripe for rorting before next year’s election”.
“Prime minister you have 15 days to explain to the Australian people the role you played and your office played in the commuter car park fund with minister Tudge and the Liberal party campaign,” he said.
“Don’t hide behind former minister Tudge … Don’t hide behind self-serving interpretation of cabinet confidentiality and public interest immunity.”
In June, a scathing ANAO report found not one of the 47 car park sites was selected by the infrastructure department, with projects handpicked by the government on advice of its MPs and candidates.
The finance and public administration committee inquiry heard the same staffer in the prime minister’s office engaged in the notorious sports rorts affair was also involved in deciding which car park projects would be funded.
The ANAO told the Senate inquiry the former urban infrastructure minister, Alan Tudge, had instructed staff to first consult marginal seat MPs before commuter car parks were selected, although Tudge has said he was not aware of a list of “Top 20 marginal” seats that guided the process.
The committee found the “misallocation of funds under the commuter car park fund reflects an endemic culture within the government of using public money for political purposes”.
“The committee is persuaded by the evidence that both the prime minister’s office and minister Tudge’s office were central in the coordination of the exclusive canvassing of Coalition MPs and candidates, in marginal Coalition held seats and targeted opposition held seats, and in the development of the ‘Top 20 marginals’ spreadsheet,” the report said.
“Further, the evidence strongly points to the prime minister being aware of the canvassing process and that either he (or his office) approved all the car park projects within the scope of the ANAO audit.”
The report warned that “the entire UCF program is vulnerable to politically motivated misallocations of funding”.
The committee noted the infrastructure department used a prime ministerial press release as the only authority for funding the Mitcham car park, which showed “a complete disregard for proper executive decision-making and governance”.
Tudge has denied any wrongdoing, insisting that all projects were “were chosen on the basis of need”.
Morrison has previously told parliament Australians wanted more carparks and were the winners from the fund.
In a dissenting report, the Coalition senators said the majority report “disingenuously” criticises the government’s program while omitting that Labor had “committed funding to car park projects on the basis of lobbying by Labor candidates”.
It cited Labor’s $300m park-and-ride fund for 24 projects including $15m for a car park in Robertson and $5m in Longman, both marginal seats.
The Coalition accused the majority report of “political criticisms and commentaries designed to undermine public confidence” in the program.
According to evidence from the department in November, just four of the 47 car parks promised by the Coalition have been completed, with five under construction and a further seven to start construction this financial year.