20 April 2016
by Paul Karp

Greens leader says $14m Brickworks grant shows need for federal Icac

Greens leader Richard Di Natale speaking in the Senate on Monday. The party has released budget office figures that show a federal Icac would cost $47.5m to establish.

The Greens leader Richard Di Natale has gone on the front foot about the need for a national anti-corruption body by highlighting the fact a significant donor to the Liberal party received $14m under a carbon scheme which was later axed by the Abbott government.

But a Greens motion to establish a national anti-corruption watchdog was defeated in the Senate on Tuesday evening.

Before the motion, Di Natale said that Brickworks, which gave $263,000 to the federal Liberal party before the 2013 election, received $14m from the clean technology innovation program after the election.

The program, which was funded by the carbon price, gave grants to companies to improve their energy performance and was then axed within weeks of the election by the Abbott government, he said.

Di Natale said for every dollar that Brickworks donated , it got $53 in public money for capital equipment and then got “another commercial benefit when the carbon price was repealed”.

“We can’t be sure if this is corruption, but the whole thing stinks,” he said. “The decision to award millions of dollars of grants from a carbon price program that Tony Abbott and his cabinet ideologically loathed in the midst of budget emergency may have been legitimate exercise of executive power – but it may not.

“Without a national anti-corruption watchdog to pour over transactions we’ll never know what went into the cabinet’s decision as it looked down list of possible grant recipients and saw Brickworks, their political allies.”

The then Greens leader Christine Milne referred the issue of Brickworks receiving the grants to the New South Wales Independent Commission Against Corruption in September 2014.

Icac replied it was unable to investigate the issue as federal grants are outside of its jurisdiction.

The Greens have attempted to put a federal anti-corruption body back on the agenda by releasing Parliamentary Budget Office costings that show it would cost $47.5m to establish.

The budget office calculated the figures for anti-corruption body with a similar size and scope as Icac, but at the federal level, with a set-up period of a year and a half.

But it noted the costing was of medium reliability as the size and scope of a proposed federal anti-corruption body was uncertain.

The budget office calculated the ongoing cost of the body would be $26m a year, rising to $29m a year by 2025-26.

Di Natale said: “We have very little institutional protection to deter misconduct in federal parliament. The system is vulnerable to corruption. But both the government and the opposition have no plans to change it.”

Meanwhile the Greens senator Lee Rhiannon has written to the leaders of the Liberals, Nationals and Labor asking them to refuse donations from fossil fuel companies.

Rhiannon said the millions of dollars given by fossil fuel companies had “sapped the vitality and integrity of Australia’s response to climate change”.

In a statement to the ABC’s 7.30 program, Brickworks said the money funded worthy projects, which were initially approved under Labor. “The grants were awarded on the basis that they delivered carbon abatement at a competitive rate,” the statement said.

“The projects were innovative and involved both energy efficient plant and the substitution of fossil fuels by clean renewable fuels.”

A spokesman for the industry minister, Christopher Pyne, also defended the allocation of the grants to 7.30, saying they had all been approved under Labor.

“Brickworks’ grant applications were treated in the same way as all other applications under the Program,” the spokesman said.