It has come to the stage where nothing surprises anymore. The government is not even pretending to do due diligence as it hands out billions of dollars.
The latest revelation, in a very long list of questionable decisions, is that the government has given $8 million to an ex-Nationals party executive and failed candidate, Nick Cleary, to develop a business case for the first stage of high-speed rail (HSR) linking Melbourne and Shepparton.
Cleary is a would-be property developer who went bankrupt in 2010. The business address for his Consolidated Land and Rail Australia (Clara) consortium is his solicitors’ office (which came as a surprise to them).
According to the Guardian:
It has just $422,000 in paid-up capital and so far has no major shareholders or directors with expertise in infrastructure projects, property development, construction or financing.
Asic searches show a web of companies behind Clara, but the ultimate controlling shareholders are Cleary, his wife, Erin Cleary, and his assistant, Alexandra Johnson, who acts as Clara’s contact point.
Reminiscent of the $423 million Manus Island contract awarded to Paladin, a tiny unknown company whose business address was a beach shack at the end of a dirt road on Kangaroo Island.
Or the gifting of $444 million to the charity Great Barrier Reef Foundation (GBRF), which at the time had annual revenue of about $10 million and only six full-time staff.
As with the dodgy water buybacks and Healthy Headwaters funding, the names of Angus Taylor and Barnaby Joyce are linked to the grant to Clara, with the HSR a shared responsibility between the Ministers for Transport and for Cities.
Taylor is a fan of the project as it would go through his electorate. He was minister for cities at the time of the first call for submissions and when the field of 26 was whittled down to 13. In November 2017, Barnaby Joyce became Minister for Transport.
Despite Clara saying it has secured land at the site of one of its proposed “new cities”, farmers at Tallygaroopna say the options agreements have lapsed and they haven’t seen or heard from Cleary for months.
Interestingly, at the time the decision was being made, Barnaby’s girlfriend Vicki Campion was supposedly “working” in the office of the Victorian Nationals MP Damien Drum, whose seat covers Shepparton and Tallygaroopna.
Barnaby was also the driving force behind the inland freight rail which, according to the AFR, has the potential to become a white elephant and a fiscal time bomb for future governments.
When Scott Morrison was Treasurer, the Coalition government made a $9.3 billion equity investment in the Australian Rail Track Corporation to get the project off the ground, a move that allowed them to take it off-budget. But if the project is commercially unviable, it will have to be brought back on budget.
A 2015 business case for the inland rail conducted by former deputy prime minister and Nationals leader John Anderson found it could not pay for itself without government funding in the first 50 years of operation.
There are also questions to answer about the proposed route, which Labor had promised to investigate had they won office.
Whether it’s gifts to Foxtel, or arms procurements without tender, travel contracts, or grants to prop up fossil fuel enterprises – the government seems to think they have no need to explain and resent any suggestion that they should be accountable for how they spend our money.
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