Minister claims car park program ‘very transparent’ after refusing to release documents

Urban Infrastructure Minister Paul Fletcher has declared the government has been “very transparent” about a controversial $660 million commuter car park fund slammed by the Auditor-General, despite his refusals to release documents showing how decisions were made to spend the money.

A council in a marginal Labor seat that was promised two car parks that were later cancelled is expecting to have its funding reinstated within weeks, but the Minister has indicated the infrastructure program is unlikely to be revived during the next election.

Paul Fletcher declared the government has been “very transparent” about a controversial $660 million commuter car park fund.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

The car park fund was blasted by the Auditor-General after it allocated money overwhelmingly to Liberal-held seats in the lead up to the 2019 election, with projects nominated by ministers and coalition MPs.

Mr Fletcher has refused to release documents showing how the previous minister Alan Tudge made decisions to spend the money, including a marginal seat spreadsheet shared with Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s office, which the Auditor-General said was the basis of the scheme.

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.

“We have been very transparent in relation to commuter car parks,” Mr Fletcher told the National Press Club.

Labor’s urban infrastructure spokesman Andrew Giles said Mr Fletcher was attempting to defend the indefensible.

“Mr Fletcher should have a close look at the dictionary definition of transparency,” he said.

“If the projects were actually selected based on evidence, Minister Fletcher wouldn’t be doing everything in his power to suppress the decision-making documents – and he wouldn’t keep changing his answers on why these rorts occurred.”

Asked whether he would endorse the same type of decisions as the spending on the commuter car parks grants scheme ahead of the coming federal election, due to be held by May, Mr Fletcher indicated the program wouldn’t be pursued.

“My focus as Minister for Urban Infrastructure is on implementing the election commitments we’ve made,” he said.

“We’re very focused on delivering the wide range of projects we’re committed to, under the urban congestion fund, and, of course our broader range of projects under the $110 billion 10-year infrastructure pipeline that we have.”

Frankston City Council expects Mr Fletcher to announce shortly he will give it money originally promised for car parks at the Seaford and Kananook train stations to build a multi-storey parking tower at Kananook.

The government allocated $14 million to the two projects ahead of the 2019 federal election, but cancelled them in April this year and reallocated the money to the nearby Frankston station car park. That project has blown out to cost $87 million, which the Commonwealth is splitting with the Victorian government.

The car park at Frankston train station will be upgraded in a joint state-Commonwealth project, which has blown out to cost $87 million.Credit:Justin McManus

Frankston sits in the electorate of Dunkley, one of Labor’s most marginal seats after Peta Murphy won it from Liberal Chris Crewther in 2019. Mayor Kris Bolam said it was a marginal seat that just happened to need more car parks, and he would take any money on offer to his community.

Mr Bolam said the council had put “a very substantive rationale” to the minister in July for funding to build a 300-space car park on an old used-car lot next to Kananook station.

“We believe it is a strong application for federal funding and we expect to have a resolution on this matter in the coming weeks,” he said.

Council has already bought the land for the project, completing the purchase in early July. It is near a basketball stadium which has been the subject of a number of redevelopment plans over several years.

If the federal money comes through, Mr Bolam anticipated the first sod could be turned early in 2022 and construction complete in about 12 months.

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