Government consulted councils months after announcing commuter car parks in their patch Loading 3rd party ad content Loading 3rd party ad content Loading 3rd party ad content Loading 3rd party ad content

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By Katina Curtis and Shane Wright

A string of councils getting car parks under the federal government’s controversial commuter car park fund weren’t consulted about the projects until after they were announced, even though the original plan was for Commonwealth money to be matched by local or state funding.

The poor consultation was revealed in submissions to a Senate committee published on Wednesday, as an international body that fights corruption says the administration of the grants scheme “can be described as corrupt conduct”.

Maroondah City Council was one of the few local governments to report asking for federal money for commuter car parks, including the one at Croydon station.

Maroondah City Council was one of the few local governments to report asking for federal money for commuter car parks, including the one at Croydon station.Credit:Paul Jeffers

The $660 million fund was used ahead of the 2019 election to announce that the Coalition would build car parks near train stations. A scathing Auditor-General’s report found more than three-quarters of the projects were in Coalition-held electorates, and two-thirds were in Melbourne.

In the more than two years since the 47 car parks were initially promised, three have been built, construction has begun on four more and six were cancelled. The federal government says that by the end of 2022, 33 of the projects will either be completed or under construction.

The Auditor-General found the sites were nominated by ministers or Coalition MPs and although some asked for information from councils, it was unclear whether those councils knew funding had been sought or approved.

In the seat of Deakin, held by Assistant Minister to the Treasurer Michael Sukkar, Maroondah City Council successfully lobbied for more car parks at Ringwood, Heatherdale, Croydon and Heathmont stations.

“Council provided information … and actively sought funding for and suggested suitable sites. All prior to the funding announcements,” director of development and amenity Andrew Fuaux told a Senate committee.

Another four projects – at Glenferrie, Camberwell, Canterbury and Surrey Hills stations – are in Treasurer Josh Frydenberg’s electorate of Kooyong, where the City of Boroondara council said federal bureaucrats only asked it for views in October 2019, six months after Mr Frydenberg and Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the funding. It is now doing “rigorous planning” to build the four projects.

Hume City Council’s chief executive Sheena Frost said the council identified extra parking at Craigieburn station as a priority in 2013 and advocated for it since. The Victorian government announced funding for the same project a year earlier than the Commonwealth, in April 2018.

“There was no consultation with Council prior to the Australian government’s publicly announcing funding,” Ms Frost wrote in the Senate submission.

The Craigieburn car park was finished in July, with the Victorian transport department set to recoup half of its $11.6 million cost from the federal government.

In junior minister Jason Wood’s seat of La Trobe, Cardinia Shire Council’s planning coordinator Anita Ransom said the now-complete upgrades at Beaconsfield station and a planned car park at Pakenham “do not go against and are not in conflict with Council’s strategic intentions for these sites”.

However, she said the council had no input into the projects.

“No formal consultation was undertaken with Council prior to the announcement of commitments ... For both Beaconsfield and Pakenham railway stations, Council was informed by the Level Crossing Removal Project (LXRP) that the upgrades were to occur,” she wrote.

Knox City Council chief executive Bruce Dobson said the council was formally notified about the proposals at Boronia and Ferntree Gully in “early 2019”. These two sites are in the electorate of Aston, held by Alan Tudge who was the minister in charge of the program at the time.

A spokesperson for the City of Canterbury Bankstown in western Sydney told the Sydney Morning Herald the council had not been involved in any planning for a car park near Panania Station, identified by the ANAO as the second most exorbitant project.

“This was a federal election commitment that was made without any consultation with Council,” the spokesperson said.

Transparency International Australia told the Senate committee the administration of the car park fund had “failed to meet the required standards of governance and accountability”.

“The use of public money for political party gain is not acceptable and fits the definition of corruption,” chief executive Serena Lillywhite said.

“It is imperative our grants administration system is reformed to ensure that public funds are protected from governmental abuse.”

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