Pork-barrelling ‘enough to make you sick’, says Scamps

5 minute read

MP Dr Sophie Scamps has issued a scathing response to a national report on a $2bn funding program launched by the former Morrison government.

Independent federal MP Dr Sophie Scamps has weighed into the damning Australian National Audit Office report into a $2bn health and hospitals funding program initiated by the former Morrison Government which described it as “ineffective and fell short of ethical requirements”.

The ANAO this week released findings from its review of the Community Health and Hospitals Program, set up in December 2018 before the 2019 Federal Election.

The CHHP and associated measures involved $2bn in grants and other funding to primary health networks, non-government organisations and state and territory governments.

“The findings of the Australian National Audit Office’s review into the handling of the Morrison-era $2bn Community Health and Hospitals Program is enough to make you sick,” said Dr Scamps.

“As a doctor, I find it incomprehensible that health funding could be rorted for a political advantage. Our health system is in crisis, and the fact the former government politicised healthcare for political gain is symptomatic of just how sick and corrupted the Morrison government was.”

CHHP’s purpose was to fund projects and services in every state and territory that support patient care while reducing pressure on community and hospital services. CHHP and associated projects comprised 171 infrastructure and service delivery projects primarily in the areas of mental health and hospital services.

Of these, 108 were administered as grants and 63 projects were national partnership agreements with state and territory governments.

The 100-page report revealed it took almost four years for the department to develop a draft monitoring and evaluation framework from the time the program was announced. Seven of 108 grants awarded had no grant opportunity guidelines.

“The Department of Health and Aged Care’s (Health’s) administration of CHHP was ineffective and fell short of ethical requirements,” the report states.

“The governance and administration of funding arrangements (including national partnership agreements with states and grants to Primary Health Networks and non-government organisations) were not effective.

“Monitoring and evaluation arrangements were partly effective, however they are developing.”

Current Federal Health Minister Mark Butler said funding had been so poorly allocated that just over $1bn in funding had been spent since the program started.

“I’ve directed my department to run the ruler over the remaining projects that have stalled to ensure that Australians get value for money,” he said.

Among the case studies highlighted in the report were a $5m grant to the Victorian sporting association Lord Somers Camp, a $4m grant to the Esther Foundation, which provided group and individualised counselling services and is now in voluntary administration, and a $25m project for the Peel Health Campus in Western Australia, to expand the emergency department, build a mental health facility, refurbish the medical imaging department, and build an eating disorder facility.

Dr Scamps said the “blistering ANAO report” revealed that nearly half of all the projects funded were allocated to marginal seats.

“The Morrison Government’s systematic pork barrelling of infrastructure funding was a disgrace,” she said.

“But the misuse of health funds puts all our lives at risk. Those involved should hang their heads in shame. This latest work by the ANAO also shows how important it is to ensure our commonwealth agencies are independent, and properly funded.”

She said it also highlighted the importance of her “Ending Jobs for Mates” Private Member’s Bill.

“Already we’ve seen the need for the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) to be disbanded because of rampant cronyism and we cannot allow that to happen to other important commonwealth agencies,” she said.

“When cronyism and rorting is allowed to flourish, it’s the people of Australia who miss out. It’s time for the Albanese Government to enact my ‘Ending Jobs for Mates’ Bill and show it takes restoring integrity to our democracy seriously.”

In a response from the DoHAC, published with the ANAO report, secretary Professor Brendan Murphy said the department “notes the findings in the report, accepts the recommendations and has commenced implementation”.

“The report highlights a number of challenges in the administration of the CHHP and related 2019-20 Budget projects,” he wrote.

“These challenges are in part due to the rapid genesis and implementation of projects the former government selected and announced.

“Notwithstanding this fact, the department acknowledges that a number of grants were not established in full accordance with the procedural requirements of finance law … It is also important to emphasise that throughout the administration of the program, the department has considered carefully its stewardship obligations and has acted with honesty, impartiality and transparency.”

The report made four recommendations, including:

  • The DoHAC improves the systems of control to identify, assess and report non-compliance with finance law.
  • To support compliance with the Commonwealth Grants Rules and Guidelines (CGRGs), the DoHAC ensures grant assessments are consistent with requirements of established grant opportunity guidelines and the requirements of the CGRGs; that they are based on sufficient information and due diligence to support a value-for-money recommendation; and that assessments and the evidence base for them are appropriately documented.
  • The DoHAC ensures that advice to government on grant funding approval is consistent with the requirements of the Commonwealth Grants Rules and Guidelines and the grant opportunity guidelines, and is comprehensive, evidence-based and accurate.
  • The DoHAC establishes a quality assurance process to confirm, and where necessary, correct the accuracy of reporting on GrantConnect.

The department has agreed with all of these recommendations, the report stated.

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