Probe continues into $660m carpark scandal

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Key stakeholders have slammed a controversial carpark fund, saying the administration of the $660m federal government scheme was ‘poor at best’.

A controversial carpark fund has been savaged by key stakeholders who say the $660m federal government scheme would only make congestion in our major cities worse.

A senate inquiry was launched following a scathing Australian National Audit Office report, which found the allocation of projects under the scheme was “not demonstrably merit-based”.

University of Melbourne transport expert John Stone told the inquiry that the projects proposed ahead of the 2019 election would only contribute to congestion.

“It seems to me that the carpark proposals in those inner and middle suburban stations are simply going to increase congestion in those areas,” Dr Stone said.

Earlier, National Growth Areas Alliance chief executive Bronwen Clark expressed her disappointment the fund had no focus on growth areas.

“In new suburbs in the outer growth areas, you know, you can wait years for the buses to arrive,” Ms Clark said.

“So if people move into a new area, and there’s no bus service or there isn’t sufficient carparking at the train station, it won’t take long until that family decides to buy the second car and just embed that driving based transport system in their lifestyle.

“We just felt that there were many other deserving locations for commuter carparks.”

Parking Australia chief executive Stuart Norman took aim at the government’s “poor” administration of the program.

“Unfortunately, while the concept of the commuter carparks is incredibly sound, which will reduce congestion and emissions by encouraging people to take public transport, the administration of the program has been poor at best,” Mr Norman said.

“At the time, when the government is promoting choice and technology, the commuter carpark program is providing neither.”

He noted the body felt their expertise had been fobbed off by then-infrastructure minister Alan Tudge, who Mr Norman says made no effort to consult him prior to the fund’s announcement.

“We read first about these carparks in the press … following that I approached minister Tudge’s office for a meeting,” Mr Norman said.

Despite two other meetings and a speech by now-Urban Infrastructure Minister Paul Fletcher to Parking Australia members, Mr Norman said: “We‘ve been completely ignored by the former minister and the current minister.”

Officials from the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications and the Australian National Audit Office are set to give evidence later on Thursday.

ANAO executive director Brian Boyd last month told a senate estimates hearing that then-infrastructure minister Alan Tudge asked his staff to organise meetings with key marginal seats about their infrastructure priorities.

The document eventually grew to include 29 electorates and was completed in April 2019 – just one month before the federal election.

Mr Tudge, now the education minister, has denied knowledge of the sheet.

Previous attempts at obtaining information that was shared between Mr Tudge’s office and the Prime Minister’s Office by the Senate have largely gone unanswered.

The government claimed, following a Senate motion requiring the tabling of documents shared between the two offices, that no such documents could be found. It also argued a public interest immunity claim prevented the release of any documents.

Nine News on Thursday reported the PMO had since failed to meet deadlines for a request to access the documents under freedom of information laws.

The audit office report found none of the 47 projects selected for funding were put forward by the Department of Infrastructure. More than three-quarters of the sites chosen for funding were in Coalition-held seats.

Twenty-seven of those projects were approved the day before Prime Minister Scott Morrison called the election.

Originally published as Officials to be grilled over contentious $660m carpark scheme