Shadow Treasurer Rob Lucas has written to the Auditor-General calling for an urgent investigation into a $757,500 Weatherill Government grant to an organisation for a political campaign which included workers on polling booths handing out leaflets at the last Federal election.
The Weatherill Government has already been criticized by the Auditor-General for its $1.1 million anti-Federal Government advertising campaign. However, the budget papers made no reference at all to this additional secret grant of $757,500 to campaign against the Federal Government.
“This is an outrageous waste of taxpayers’ money especially at a time when Mr Weatherill says money is limited and there are cuts to critical services at the Modbury Hospital and The Queen Elizabeth Hospital,” said Shadow Treasurer Rob Lucas.
Documents released under Freedom of Information show that part of the grant was used to employ a former ministerial staffer to Mr Weatherill – Brad Chilcott – who then organized workers in some polling booths in the electorates of Sturt, Mayo, Boothby and Port Adelaide.
Workers handed out scorecards on education funding policies developed to encourage voters not to vote for the Liberal Party. The FOI documents claim polling booth workers had “10,000 voter interactions while handing out scorecards.”
The FOI documents also reveal another extraordinary aspect of this grant.
On 6 May 2016 the Chairperson of One Community SA (Peter Sandeman) wrote to an executive in Mr Weatherill’s department (former minister staffer to Mike Rann, Paul Flanagan) requesting $757,500 to mount a campaign against the Federal Government funding decisions in education and health.
The letter also claimed the original idea for the campaign came from Mr Sandeman. Attached to the letter is a detailed, costed proposal including proposed payments to an interstate based communications consultancy – Essential Media Communications.
On exactly the same day (6 May 2016) Flanagan wrote to Mr Sandeman indicating that the Weatherill Government had agreed to provide $757,500 to fund the campaign.
“Those hundreds of community organisations who wait months for answers to grant applications for as little as $5000 will be stunned to see an application for $757,500 being supposedly approved on the same day it was received,” said Mr Lucas.
“In all my time in politics I don’t believe I have ever seen anything as extraordinary as this process.
“Mr Weatherill must be held to account for this massive waste of taxpayers’ money. The Auditor-General should investigate whether the grant actually breaks the Government’s own advertising rules as well as checking the accuracy of claims made in the correspondence.
“The Auditor-General should not only require answers from Mr Flanagan and his Chief Executive Kym Winter-Dewhirst but also what discussions prior to May 6 were held with Mr Weatherill or any staff member in Mr Weatherill’s office.”