Alarm bells should be sounding over Minister for Resources, Jaclyn Symes’, apparent lack of concern for what appears to be a potential misuse of public funds.
According to the Earth Resources website, which shows the recipients of grants under the ‘Target Minerals Exploration Initiative’, 6 of 10 grants provided under Round 1 of the scheme went to one company, Stavely Minerals. Over $1 million or 48 per cent of all grants went to that one company.
A further $480,000 was given to them in the third round of that Initiative.
With just one company awarded about half of all grants in the first round of a scheme that was supposed to broadly support the Resources sector, and with a prominent Departmental Officer subsequently being employed by the beneficiary, questions of probity should reasonably be asked.
At today’s Public Accounts & Estimates Committee hearings, the Minister seemed largely unperturbed by these revelations.
And while the Minister stated that grants are awarded by a competitive process by an independent panel that provides advice to Government, she appeared to concede that there was no filter in her Department which highlighted the large allocation for grants to one company.
The Minister seemed reluctant to undertake any review of the program to ensure the program was administered with procedural fairness. It was only after pressure from Deputy Chair, Richard Riordan, that the Minister finally conceded to “have a look at it.”
The Opposition directs no allegations towards employees of Stavely Minerals, it rather is simply asking that the Minister directly address perceptions of impropriety.
Quotes attributable to the Hon. Ryan Smith MP, Shadow Minister for Resources:
“The Minister for Resources must immediately conduct a review of all grants provided to companies in the resources sector, to reassure Victorians that taxpayer funds are awarded based on merit.
“Minister Symes must immediately explain why almost half of the grants under the first round of a Government program went to one company instead of supporting the industry more broadly.
“The Minister must be held to her comments that she will “have a look at it.” Probity and transparency seem to be growing casualties under the Andrews government.”