Car park scheme signed off without any promise of extra spaces

Finance Minister Simon Birmingham has defended the federal government’s under fire $660 million commuter car park scheme as a necessary boost to productivity despite projects being approved without any promise they would actually deliver extra park spaces.

As Labor ramped up attacks on the scheme, labelling it corruption of the political process, Senator Birmingham said the program was justified because the Coalition had won the 2019 election.

The government is facing a Senate inquiry into the program after a scathing report by the Auditor-General found it was opaque and failed to award funds based on merit.

Finance Minister Simon Birmingham has defended the government’s car park scheme on productivity grounds even as the Auditor-General found some projects would not add extra car spaces.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

Prime Minister Scott Morrison and then-urban infrastructure minister Alan Tudge used the program to promise 47 car parks and upgrades near train stations. The car parks overwhelming favoured Coalition-held seats, especially across suburban Melbourne.

Senator Birmingham said local MPs were entitled to advocate on behalf of their electorates and in the case of the car park program that is what they had done.

“That’s what electorates expect, that’s what they vote on and governments are expected to listen and work to some of those advocacy points where need is genuine and where it is well argued and that is precisely what governments will continue to do so,” he told ABC television on Sunday.

“The Australian people had their chance and voted the Morrison government back in the next election and we are determined to get on with local infrastructure, as we are nation-building infrastructure.

“We are going to continue to deliver infrastructure projects for the nation because they lift our national productivity, they help Australians in terms of whether it be their access to public transport, the time it takes them to get home.”

But of the 47 projects promised in 2019 two have so far been constructed while several have been abandoned.

The Auditor-General also found while the government promised the car parks would take “tens of thousands” of cars off roads, it actually did not know if the program would work.

It reported 22 completed proposals put to government ministers failed to outline how many extra car spaces would be provided.

The Croydon railway station in Melbourne is one of the car parks promised to be upgraded as part of the government’s program.Credit:Paul Jeffers

By March this year, the Infrastructure Department estimated that of the 47 projects, 23 would provide an extra 7696 spaces of which 1700 depended on extra funding. For another 19 sites there was still no estimate of the extra spaces while five sites would not provide any added spaces.

“It was common for the department to not analyse information such as the number of car park spaces expected to be provided,” the Auditor-General found.

Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese described the program as a disgrace, saying the proper process of government had been corrupted.

“This pork and ride scheme included commuter car parks where there’s no train station near where the car park is,” he said.

“This was a corruption of proper process. The government made decision to provide taxpayers money on the basis of submissions from political candidates who weren’t elected members of parliament, as well as members of the coalition.”

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