Australians have long known that the Morrison Government was all announcement, no delivery and a report by the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) into the Community Health and Hospitals Program (CHHP) lays this bare.
The ANAO report, tabled in Parliament today, describes the full extent of the Morrison Government’s waste, rorts and captain’s picks.
The CHHP program included 171 projects totalling $2 billion of taxpayer funding that were selected and announced by the former government in the lead up to, and months after, the 2019 Federal Election.
108 projects were administered as grants, with the remaining 63 projects entered into as national partnership agreements with state and territory governments.
The ANAO found the Department of Health and Aged Care (the Department) established an expression of interest process (EOI) for the CHHP projects that were entered into as national partnership agreements with state and territory governments.
Of the 63 partnerships, more than half (34) were selected by the former government outside of any expression of interest (EOI) process, with no EOI proposal and no assessment against eligibility or assessment criteria.
Of the 29 projects that were assessed via the EOI process, 1 in 4 were neither “suitable” or “highly suitable”. Several were misaligned with program objectives, duplicated services already provided, or had access to alternative funds. One project in Queensland wasn't assessed at all.
The ANAO report makes clear that the former government announced so many projects without assessment or guidance, and at such speed, that the Department was forced to monitor the media to know which projects had been selected.
Even state governments were not always provided formal advice on which projects had been approved for funding and sometimes became aware of approval through public announcements.
The ANAO found that the administration of the 108 CHHP projects administered as grants was “not appropriate, involved deliberate breaches of the relevant legal requirements and the principles underpinning them.”
For example, a $4 million grant captain’s pick from the former Prime Minister to the Esther Foundation was entered into without a financial viability assessment, audited financial statements, or even the legal authority to support the expenditure.
Subsequently, deeply distressing allegations against Esther House were aired and a West Australian parliamentary inquiry was held into allegations of sexual and psychological abuse at the foundation.
The Esther Foundation later entered into liquidation in May 2022.
As late as November 2022, more than half the CHHP projects involving infrastructure were stuck in the preliminary or planning stage, and a little over half the CHHP’s $2 billion funding has been expended.
The Minister for Health and Aged Care will now direct the Department to rigorously examine and go line-by-line over the projects to ensure that Australians get value for money from the remaining CHHP funds.
The Department of Health and Aged Care accepts all the recommendations of the ANAO report. The Department has already strengthened its internal procedures and is taking additional and broader actions in response to the findings to support best practice administration.
This will include a comprehensive external review of its financial controls and assurance framework to ensure it is fit for purpose and help inform the response to the ANAO’s recommendations.
Quotes attributable to Minister Butler:
“The Morrison Government ran roughshod over Cabinet processes, Government Departments and, ultimately, the Australian people. This report shows that health funding was no exception."
“The Morrison Government announced billions of dollars of taxpayers money for health projects around the time of the 2019 election, with no regard to proper process or good governance."
“This program exemplifies the Morrison Government’s time in office – one plagued with waste and rorts. A Government that was all announcement and no delivery."
“This taxpayer money was so poorly allocated that years later, at a time when Medicare and the health system are under such strain, just half of the $2 billion has actually been spent."
“I’ve directed my Department to run the ruler over the remaining projects that have stalled to ensure that Australians get value for money.”