DAVID BEVAN: Now, yesterday we brought you the news that, in the budget – and it’s a pretty big document – there was a line which said $5 million will be given to a church in Thebarton… it’s a Greek Orthodox church at Thebarton [Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church Thebarton]… to pay for soundproofing because of the airport… the flights going over apparently are unbearable; it’s just awful if you’re trying to conduct the business of a church there. $5 million is a lot of money. It’s going to be paid for by extending the airport levy, so if you use a plane at Adelaide Airport for six months, you’re going to be paying for the $5 million.
DAVID BEVAN: We have put in a call to the Labor MP for Hindmarsh, Steve Georganas, and he hasn’t got back to us yet. We did raise the issue with the Prime Minister yesterday but, understandably, it’s perhaps the minutiae of the budget that… the Prime Minister was only able to speak in most general terms. Senator Simon Birmingham doesn’t want to talk in general terms. I think he wants, as a Liberal Senator for South Australia, to get down into detail. God morning, Simon Birmingham.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Good morning, David and listeners.
DAVID BEVAN: Will you be using the Senate estimates committee to look at this particular allocation?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Absolutely, David. This is a program that was around for quite a long period of time. It was a reform of the Howard Government. Chris Gallus, as the Liberal Member for Hindmarsh, got delivered noise insulation and support for around, according to the audit reports, 650 houses, a number of public buildings, at an overall cost of $63 million. Now, if that’s all accurate, that works out to about $100,000 per building. Now we’re looking at a $5 million grant for one church that’s come out of the blue well after this program was finalised and so it’s a very curious arrangement and I’m very eager to get to the bottom of how it’s come about and how on earth this surprisingly high cost can be justified.
DAVID BEVAN: What is the process to make sure that the system has integrity? Does it boil down to a bunch of politicians asking questions at Senate estimates or is there another system to guarantee that the proper allocation of money is made?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, David, ultimately, if I’m not satisfied with the answers I get through the Senate estimates process, I can, just as I did with the grants to the Adelaide Desalination Plant, ask the Auditor-General to investigate this matter. We’re a little way off that just as yet. I want to get the Government’s side of the story and, as you indicated, the Prime Minister couldn’t answer those details yesterday. I would hope that perhaps Minister Albanese, as the transport minister, might come forward and explain just how it is that this funding has been approved, where the request came from, why it is that, some years after the program was thought to have basically concluded, they are reinstating the levy and doing this one-off project for one particular building.
DAVID BEVAN: When is Senate estimates?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: In two weeks’ time, David.
DAVID BEVAN: Right and would you be investigating the matter before the money’s actually allocated, the work has begun?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: That would be what I expect to be the case in that this money is budgeted for, I understand, next financial year, so we’ll have the chance to ask those questions beforehand. In the meantime, I’ve made some calls into the Greek community and the Adelaide Airport as well to make sure that we try to get some understanding of what’s happened at the local level and at a governmental level.
DAVID BEVAN: And what are they telling you?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Look, at present I haven’t got many answers from the community side of things, so there’s still some work to be done there. The Airport have indicated to me at least some of the history of the program and, indeed, when that levy last applied which I gather was about 2010 and that it will be about $3 to $4 per passenger arriving for a six-month period to raise this $5 million.
DAVID BEVAN: $3 or $4? Senator, thank you for your time. I didn’t have any trouble finding people in the community who were worried about this but we’ll see what happens in estimates. Senator Simon Birmingham, thank you.