Wide Bay MP Llew O’Brien (left) fires back at criticism of ministerial intervention for grant funding amid revelations one third of approvals in a recent round were made following Ministerial intervention by Deputy Primie Minister Michael McCormack and an unnamed panel and despite not being recommended by the department
Wide Bay MP Llew O’Brien (left) fires back at criticism of ministerial intervention for grant funding amid revelations one third of approvals in a recent round were made following Ministerial intervention by Deputy Primie Minister Michael McCormack and an unnamed panel and despite not being recommended by the department

O’Brien defends controversial practice amid funding scrutiny

Wide Bay MP Llew O'Brien has defended the practice of ministers stepping in on grant funding decisions, labelling it a bulwark against bureaucracy.

His comments follow revelations more than one third of projects announced in one round of the federal government's Building Better Regions fund were approved despite not being recommended by the department.

Documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act and reported on by the ABC reveal 112 of the 330 projects approved for the third round of the program were given the green light due to intervention by Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack and an unnamed group of government ministers.

Commonwealth Grant Rules require ministers to disclose to the Finance Minister when they approve grants against departmental recommendations.

Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack and a panel of Ministers recommended 112 projects be funded in the round despite them not being recommended by the department.
Picture: NCA NewsWire / Gary Ramage
Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack and a panel of Ministers recommended 112 projects be funded in the round despite them not being recommended by the department. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Gary Ramage

They must give a brief statement that outlines why they intervened.

The statement provided with the projects in question said the decisions "address key infrastructure priorities in each region, taking into account Australian Government properties that align with the government's intent of supporting regional Australia".

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It is unknown which projects in the round were approved in this manner, or what projects missed out as a result.

It is not suggested any of the approved projects were ineligible for funding.

Three Gympie region projects were approved in the round: $92,414 to install new lights at the Gympie Showground's main arena; $19,191 for tourism market research in the Mary Valley; and $20,000 to deliver a strategic plan for tourism at the Cooloola Coast.

Mr O'Brien, who was not involved in any of the decision-making about the grants, yesterday defended the practice as a bulwark against bureaucracy.

Funding to install new lighting at the Gympie Showgrounds was one of the Wide Bay projects approved in the round, which received more than 900 applications. Picture: Shane Zahner
Funding to install new lighting at the Gympie Showgrounds was one of the Wide Bay projects approved in the round, which received more than 900 applications. Picture: Shane Zahner

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"Members of parliament are elected to make decisions and the capacity for ministerial decision-making exists for a reason," Mr O'Brien said.

" Without it, our country would be run by unelected and unaccountable bureaucratic robots.

"It is because of ministerial decision-making that around 200 new jobs are being created at Nolan Meats.

"That's around 200 extra pay packets going to Gympie families."

Nolan Meats' eligibility for the $5.5m it received through the Regional Jobs and Investment Package grant program was brought into question in 2019, following a damning report which found one in every five projects in that scheme was overturned by a ministerial panel.

It was reported the Gympie business may have been ineligible because it was a registered training organisation, which was generally a disqualification under the grant rules.

Mr O’Brien defended the practice saying without Ministerial intervention, Nolan Meats may not have received $5.5 million in funding to expand.. Attribution: Nolan Meats
Mr O’Brien defended the practice saying without Ministerial intervention, Nolan Meats may not have received $5.5 million in funding to expand.. Attribution: Nolan Meats

In February 2020, Mr O'Brien defended the decision.

It would have been an unintended consequence of the guidelines if the application by Nolan Meats was rejected simply on the grounds that Nolan Meats operates on an efficient business model," he said.

"Everyone in Gympie knows that the primary purpose of Nolan Meats is meat processing."

"The internal training provided exclusively to their staff develops skills, providing them with long-term career opportunities."

Mr O'Brien said yesterday that the round of BBR funding in question delivered $2.7m into the Wide Bay "leveraging a total investment of $5,763,556 for a range of projects throughout the electorate, including in Gympie, the Mary Valley, and the Cooloola Coast".

"These projects focused on job creation, increasing tourism, improving the environment, and building new opportunities for people in these communities."

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