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Federal funding of WestConnex to be audited

The Australian National Audit Office announced on Wednesday that it will conduct an audit of the Federal Government’s commitment of $3.5 billion to the controversial WestConnex project.

Campaigners against the project on Thursday said that the audit would expose the high costs of the project to the Federal purse, similar to figures exposed by an audit of the East West Link which was tabled by the Auditor General in late 2015.

WestCONnex Action Group spokesperson Pauline Lockie said that the decision to audit the project showed there were huge questions over the project.

“We’ve always said WestCONnex has all the hallmarks of a dirty project – no transparency, escalating costs, corrupted planning processes, contracts signed before approvals are granted and more,” Ms Lockie said.

“Its recent audit of the East-West Link toll road condemned Tony Abbott’s decision to commit Federal funding to the project, which would have returned just 45c for every $1 of taxpayer money wasted on it.

“We expect the ANAO will make similar findings when it comes to WestCONnex, which is bigger, more expensive, and even less transparent than that disastrous project,” Ms Lockie said.

She said that over $2 billion of $3.5 billion in federal funds for the project was still yet to be transferred.

Greens WestConnex spokesperson Jenny Leong said that the decision to federally audit the project was a win for the community who have been calling for more transparency. She said that serious concerns were raised by the NSW Auditor General’s report released in December 2014.

“The terms of reference for this Auditor General’s inquiry suggest that the decision to provide $3.5 billion of public federal funds needs to be investigated.”

“We know the proper processes weren’t adhered to when it came to funding WestConnex, with both the federal Liberal and Labor parties blindly throwing $1.8 billion at this project in the context of the 2013 election campaign.

“Let’s not forget it was the former Federal Labor Infrastructure Minister Anthony Albanese that initially announced the seed funding for this disastrous motorway in January 2013.”

Mr Albanese, the local Labor Federal member for Grayndler as well as shadow Infrastructure Minister is expected to make his position on the project and its Federal funding clearer at a meeting on Thursday evening in Balmain.

On Thursday he said he welcomed the audit.

“I welcome the decision of the Commonwealth Auditor General to conduct an Australian National Audit Office performance audit of the approval and administration of the Commonwealth funding for Sydney’s WestConnex toll road

project.”

He said that the Commonwealth Government had made an advance loan of $2 billion as well as a $1.2 billion grant. Mr Albanese said that this was in breach of of 2013 election promise by the Liberal Party not to fund projects without a cost benefit analysis.

“It is clear that the Abbott-Turnbull Governments have undermined this process and their own election promises by cutting public transport projects that had been properly assessed in order to make advance payments for toll road projects that have not been properly assessed.”

Along with Jenny Leong and Senator Janet Rice, Greens candidate for Grayndler Jim Casey called for a halt to work and funding for the project pending the audit.

“There is now an urgent need for both the Liberal and Labor parties to join the community and the Greens and support an immediate halt to construction and commit to ensuring that no more federal funds go to WestConnex until the Auditor General’s report in Jan 2017.”

The audit is due to be tabled in January 2017.

A public meeting tonight will be held at Balmain Town Hall at 6.30 pm.

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