This afternoon I would like to make some comments in relation to the Auditor-General’s report, Regional Growth Fund — Outcomes and Learnings.
Ms Pulford — That’s an interesting read.
Ms TIERNEY — It is a very sorry tale indeed, Minister Pulford. The Auditor-General found that under the Liberal-Nationals government the Regional Growth Fund had weaknesses in design, a lack of transparency and weaknesses in evaluation. It had significant funds to invest in regional Victoria, and that in itself is a good thing, but it is not a good thing when the projects have no paperwork in the pre-application process or when recommendations are declined but the minister overrules those decisions despite there being no paperwork or minutes of meetings in which those decisions were made.
This report found that there was no evidence around how proposals were even shortlisted — none at all. This lack of transparency leads to the question of effectiveness, and once again the Auditor-General found a murky picture. This explains some of the outrageous claims we have heard from those opposite about the effectiveness of the Regional Growth Fund. The accounting practices were shabby, the reporting practices were shambolic and the effectiveness measurements had no basis in reality. The Auditor-General is quoted as saying:
There were also some weaknesses in governance, with independent assessment committees seemingly ‘rubber stamping’ projects for approval. These issues persist despite the department managing significant grant-based programs for well over a decade. As a result, it was difficult to ascertain whether the best possible projects were funded under the RGF. This also brings into question whether the state achieved the best value for money for its investment in regional Victoria.
On page 11 under the heading ‘Findings’ the report says:
Pre-application processes were not well documented.
A robust evaluation framework was not effectively developed and implemented.
Performance measures were neither effectively developed nor monitored.
There was a general lack of targets, benchmarks and baseline data for performance measures.
On page 29 under the heading ‘Findings’ the report says:
Most reported job and investment outcomes are inflated and not an accurate reflection of the RGF contribution.
The department did not report on all outcomes of the RGF.
The department did not have benchmarks and targets for all programs. In cases where these were available these were not consistently applied.
Time constrains me, but suffice to say that this report is damning of the processes around the Regional Growth Fund. They were opaque, and inappropriate measurement techniques were used. The claims made about the fund were grossly overblown.
I am pleased to report that the Auditor-General says the department is applying the lessons learnt from these failures of the Regional Growth Fund and that they are now being applied to the Andrews Labor government’s Regional Jobs and Infrastructure Fund. He reports that this includes developing stronger evaluation frameworks with regular reviews and a greater focus on performance reporting and collecting baseline data.
In response to Ms Bath I simply say that Labor will not be taking money out of the regions, including the region she represents. In fact there is more money attached to Labor’s regional programs and funds. What I can also say to Ms Bath is that while the local projects she mentioned in her contribution are probably significant and successful projects, they are so despite the significant flaws in the previous fund.
No community needs to put up with this. Labor does not want communities to have to deal with the likes of an inefficient fund that lacks accountability and transparency. I call on all MPs to take the time to read this report. It is enlightening, and it shows how not to do it. We need to do more to support regional Victoria. I commend this report to the house.