Former infrastructure minister Alan Tudge has denied any knowledge of a list of marginal electorates compiled by his office that the Auditor-General’s office found was the starting point of the government’s $660 million Commuter Car Park Fund.
Mr Tudge on Tuesday morning faced his first questions about the fund since a highly critical Auditor-General’s report found that 77 per cent of projects were in Coalition seats and justified the program in part by saying voters had backed the government at the last election.
Former infrastructure minister Alan Tudge has justified the Coalition’s $600 million commuter carpark program by saying people voted for the Coalition.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen
Just two of the promised 47 car parks have been completed, some have been abandoned and, in at least one case, the Auditor-General found the price of a single car space will be more than $211,000.
Many were promised in south-eastern Melbourne where senior ministers including Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Assistant Treasurer Michael Sukkar faced serious challenges at the 2019 poll.
Mr Tudge, pressed on the existence of a marginal electorate list used to guide the selection of the car parks, denied knowledge of it.
“I’m not aware of that list,” he said.
His denial followed evidence by the Auditor-General’s office to a parliamentary committee last month that revealed the existence of the list.
Deputy Auditor-General Brian Boyd told the committee a “marginal electorate list” was maintained by Mr Tudge’s office and was the starting point for Commuter Car Park fund decisions.
“It started being initially termed as being the top 20 marginals,” he said.
“The key thing was to touch base with the top 20 marginals, either the member of the House of Representatives if the electorate was held by the Coalition, the relevant duty senator for other electorates and endorsed candidates in two other electorates to ask them what projects in your electorate do you think worthy of being put through this program.”
Pressed further about the Auditor-General’s evidence to the Senate inquiry, Mr Tudge said he was “not aware of that”.
Two of the projects, Ferntree Gully and Boronia, were in Mr Tudge’s electorate of Aston.
The existing car park at Ringwood station, one of several sites chosen for upgrades under the federal government’s controversial congestion fund.Credit:Paul Jeffers
Former Victorian Supreme Court judge David Harper, QC, said last month the scheme was “on any appropriate definition” an example of corruption.
Mr Tudge said the car parks were chosen on the basis of need.
He said the Auditor-General had found the decisions on the car parks were legal.
“The Auditor-General also said they were all lawfully based. 33 of them were ticked off by the department for coming up for decision. We took those to the Australian people and the Australian people voted for them,” he said.
Mr Tudge said the Coalition had sunk $9.1 billion into three “mega” projects across western and north-western Melbourne which were Labor-held seats.
He nominated the planned Geelong fast trail project which the Coalition promised at the 2019 election as part of its efforts to retain the marginal Liberal-held seat of Corangamite.
Mr Tudge also said eastern Melbourne used to have a mega-project, the $17 billion East-West Link.
That project has been Liberal Party policy at the last two state elections which have been won by the Labor Party.
Mr Tudge, who said Labor’s own car park fund had promised projects to either Labor-held seats or those it was targeting at the last election, said the program was all about boosting demand for suburban rail.
“Our aim was to boost capacity right across particular lines,” he said.
“If you can boost capacity in one location it supports capacity further down the track. I had representations as much as anyone did across Melbourne, that people go to commuter car parks in the morning, find that the first one is full so what do they do, the drive to the next one. The next one’s full so they drive to the next one. The next one’s full and it keeps on going.”
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