Government sought legal advice repeatedly over carpark fund

Exclusive: The federal government sought legal advice over the administration of the controversial commuter car parks program six times in less than three years.

The Department of Infrastructure advised the Senate, it first received advice over the $660 million program on August 28, 2018.

The auditor-general found the 77 per cent of the projects announced by the government went into Coalition seats.

READ MORE: Government's controversial $600 million car park fund to be examined by Senate inquiry

Since the election in May 2019, the Department received legal advice on five further occasions, including four days after the ballot.

In response to a question on notice the Department said it "regularly seeks on the administration of programs", and did so again in May, June and August 2020, and again in February this year.

"It is standard practice in the course of managing government programs to seek legal advice on administrative affairs," a spokesperson for the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications said.

"The advice provided on the dates outlined related to the administration of the Commuter Car Park Program, and does not relate to the ANAO (Australian National Audit Office) performance audit."

READ MORE: Alan Tudge denies knowledge of 'top 20 marginals' list used for $660m car park fund

"Given the troubled nature of this program, it is no surprise the department sought legal advice on multiple occasions," Shadow Infrastructure Minister Catherine King said.

The auditor-general was scathing in its assessment of the administration of the program, which also heavily favoured electorates in Melbourne.

Four car park sites were promised in the electorate of the Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, who faced questions over progress.

"Ten per cent of the total funds that he committed as Treasurer for Commuter Car Parks at the last election were allocated to his own electorate, after more than two years how many of the four car parks the Treasurer promised, have been built? How many have started construction and how many are no longer going ahead?" Shadow Treasurer Jim Chalmers asked during Question Time.

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"We on this side of the house have supported Commuter Car parks including in my own electorate because we want to reduce congestion on our roads," Mr Frydenberg said

"With respect to the car parks in my own electorate they haven't been built as yet, and we want them built," the Treasurer added.

Across the entire program three of 47 sites have been completed and five projects in Melbourne were scrapped earlier this year.

While the audit office found evidence of what it called "a list of top 20 marginals" used as part of the program, the then-Minister Alan Tudge denies ever seeing one, and the Prime Minister would not answer specifically when asked, if he had.

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Now-Infrastructure Minister Paul Fletcher has made a Public Interest Immunity claim over spreadsheets used in the administration of the program.

The minister claims they are cabinet documents, meaning they could remain secret for decades.

"The real question though is what the Prime Minister knew. The Prime Minister been asked clear questions about this program all week and has yet to give a straight answer," Ms King said.

"The Prime Minister needs to come clean on exactly what went on with this fund."

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