Interview on FIVEaa Mornings with Leon Byner
Topics: Weatherill Labor Government’s taxpayer-funded grant to a community organisation to do political campaigning
Leon Byner: …there’s a story that came to air, last night, on Channel Seven’s Today Tonight – it was from an FOI – where the State Government granted non-organisations, welfare organisations, something like $757,000 for the purpose of blatant partisan political advertising against the Coalition at the last federal election. Now, on the 6th of May, a letter was received by Government asking for advertising funding to rebut the Liberals on health and education by NGOs – that’s non-government organisations. Your taxes, unable to afford air-conditioning repairs at The QEH, it seems, servicing of CT scanners, beds being shut across Health… none of this 57 thou went to the homeless or other needy but blatant political advocacy. Now, there is a little bit of a Canal [sic] No 5 about this, in the ethics department. Your levies, charges, costs, are not collected for the purpose of partisan political advertising. Maybe the Electoral Commission will be interested. There is a discussion out there about where this ought to go to from here but I caught up, earlier this morning, with the federal Education minister, Simon Birmingham.
Leon Byner: Senator Simon Birmingham, good morning. What is your reaction to the FOI revelations, Channel Seven’s Today Tonight, that the State Government – via NGOs, non-government organisations – channelled $757,000 of taxpayers’ money for the political purpose of partisan advertising during the last federal election?
Simon Birmingham: Well, good morning, Leon, and good morning to your listeners. This is quite an appalling use of Government money. In fact, it is borderline on corruption in the fact that, at the very start of last year’s federal election campaign, the State Labor Government managed to siphon off more than $750,000 for purely partisan campaigning purposes, a grant that was applied for and approved on the same day. Think about that for all of the community groups out there who spend all their time trying to get small amounts of money out of government for, you know, their good, local purposes. This was more than $750,000 completely stitched up where an application sent in in the morning, approved in the afternoon and then used to blatantly campaign against the re-election of the Turnbull Government. It’s an absolute outrage and the Labor Party should be reimbursing South Australian taxpayers.
Leon Byner: What do you propose to do about this?
Simon Birmingham: Well, I’m very pleased to see that Rob Lucas and the State Liberal Party are referring the matter to the Auditor-General, who of course is the right entity to investigate at the state level, but there really are questions that the associated charities need to answer and the national charities watchdog ought to be having a good look at that, as well, but, really, I think the most important part, here, is that we saw money that is taxpayers’ money that should be used for hospitals, schools, for public services, used instead for political advertising, to pay people to stand on polling booths. Can you believe it? They actually had the gall to admit they had people on polling booths, on election day, campaigning against the Liberal Party, which South Australian taxpayers were paying for. Now, the Labor Party should be honest enough to say this was a terrible mistake, this really was corrupt activity, and they ought to repay the money.
Leon Byner: If it’s corrupt, as you say, then surely there is a remedy?
Simon Birmingham: Well, I think this would be an interesting one for the ICAC to take a look at because the idea that it was just approved on the same day is farcical. The person who ran it, Brad Chilcott from One Community SA… he’s a well-known Labor Party activist, was a delegate to their National Convention… who did he speak to beforehand; who within the Government knew; who approved this; who said ‘send in your application and we’ll give it a nod and a wink and an okay, all within one day’s notice’?
Leon Byner: Simon, thanks for joining us.
Simon Birmingham: A pleasure, Leon.