Is Eurobodalla embroiled in yet another pork barrel debacle?
'Pork Barrel' Barilaro remains unapologetic at being caught out granting the Mackay Park Arts $8 million dollars from Round 2 of the Regional Culture Fund even before it opened for applications six months later. The local member, Andrew Constance, along with the Premier, publicly announced the successful grant in March 2018. Were they in on the now admitted 'rort'? In today's SMH it is reported that NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian directly approved more than $100 million in council grants in Coalition-held electorates before last year's state election, sparking a parliamentary inquiry over allegations of rorting.
"A series of emails seen by the Herald show the NSW Stronger Communities Fund, originally set up by the Baird government to help merged councils, was used by the offices of the Premier and Deputy Premier John Barilaro to orchestrate funding announcements for seats across the state." The possible rorts being identified by SMH occurred in 2018. In September 2018 at the Eurobodalla Business Awards Andrew Constance announced over $2 million in funding for community and local sporting facilities across the Eurobodalla region through round two of the NSW Government’s Stronger Country Communities Fund. Projects funded across the Eurobodalla under the grant included:
$1 Million for the Moruya Library and Arts Centre redevelopment.
$380,000 for upgrades at Bill Smyth Oval Narooma.
$353,700 for the revitalization of Captain Oldrey Park.
$350,000 for field lighting at Bill Smyth Oval, Bodalla Oval and Gundary Oval.
$83,722 for construction of a path linking the Batemans Bay CBD to Mackay Park. These are all good projects but the question must be asked "are these projects now tainted like the $8 million NSW Regional Cultural Grant for the Mackay Park Art building?" Which other deserving region might have missed out if these grants came about because of pork barrelling? There is still a nasty smell lingering around the $25 million dollars that Ann Sudmalis gave the Mackay Park pool just ten days before an election was called. The Federal Regional Growth Fund opened for applications in March 2018, and was highly competitive with 337 applications received, seeking total funding of $5.9 billion. Initial applications had to demonstrate claims against three merit criteria; projects had to create jobs, drive economic growth and build stronger regional communities. In October 2018, the Australian Government announced 16 projects to proceed to the second stage. Ann Sudmalis announced that $25 million had been assigned. These 16 applicants, including Eurobodalla, were invited to submit a full business case for a value for money assessment. The projects approved for funding were also required to reflect the focus of the program to build on a community's existing strengths, re-invigorate industries and tap into regional tourism potential. These sixteen included Mackay Park and it was awarded, as per the statement by The Honourable Michael McCormack MP Deputy Prime Minister Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Senator the Honourable Bridget McKenzie Minister for Regional Services Minister for Sport Minister for Local Government and Decentralisation on the 2nd of April 2019 That statement included: $25.0 million towards the construction of the Regional Aquatic, Arts and Leisure Precinct at Mackay Park in the Eurobodalla Shire that will improve participation in cultural and community activities by local residents, create local jobs and cater for the 1.3 million visitors to the region each year. This project is expected to increase the number of overnight stays in the region by 25 per cent;
NOTE: while the joint statement is from McCormack and McKenzie it is NOT the reported Sports Rorts however the Auditor General has found that the handling of the previous round of the Regional Growth Fund noted "Ineligible applications were identified but not all of those identified were removed from further consideration. Various other eligibility requirements relating to the content of applications were not consistently applied."
Note that the requirement in October 2018 of the Federal Regional Growth Fund was for "a full business case for a value for money assessment." The ONLY business case that existed at the time was the Otium Business case of August 2017 . That business case is NOT a FULL business case. That Otium business case, which the Mayor so often refers to clearly reminds Council that: "Neither Otium Planning Group, nor any member or employee of Otium Planning Group, nor any subconsultants engaged in the preparation of this report assumes any legal liability or responsibility for the accuracy, completeness, or usefulness of the content of this report." The very same business case clearly states: It should be noted that the financial model does not incorporate sensitivity analysis or depreciation at this stage. This will be done after the base case assumptions and preferred design option have been approved by Council. Further, once the preferred design option and financial modelling has been approved and finalised, an assessment of the economic impact of the facility should be undertaken by Council to support any applications for external funding. The Mayor told Simon Lauder (June 26th 2020) of ABC South East, when asked about the Mackay Park business case, that "the business case is already released. It is on the Council's website".
VIDEO: note time stamp 5:27 regarding business case. Once again that Business Case the Mayor refers to is the Otium Business case of August 2017 This business case is for a completely different building with different components, sizes and seating capacities. The Mayor has stated that Council has updated their costing model, as provided by a Quantity Surveyor, and can not reveal this report as it compromise the tender outcome. What the Mayor, Liz Innes, fails to understand is that the updated building costs calculated by the Quantity Surveyors is NOT a Full Business case that offers, as did the Otium report, the projected incomes based on anticipated turnstyle numbers and the projected overheads of labour and running costs. The Mayor still believes that the Otium projected theatre numbers will be 12 productions per year (page 74) with each running nine days to a full house of 350 for each performance. Those Otium figures also anticipate a minimum loss of $300,000 per year. Council have now adopted the 2020-2021 budget that makes a commitment to fill THE GAP between the $51 million in grant money held and the now anticipated $65 million project. Councillors have been secretly briefed on how they might be able to fill THE GAP by selling off council assets, moving money around in accounts and taking out trans-generational loans however that would only cover the cost of building. The ongoing maintenance and operational costs would have to still be borne by ALL ratepayers as the facility is classified as a REGIONAL centre. With the facility now just a 25m pool, a kiddies pool, a half sized warm water pool for aqua aerobics classes, a splash pad, a commercial gym area, a kiosk and a 350 seat theatre there is little that represents a Regional facility that will be willingly financially supported by ratepayers across the Shire