Aug 28, 2014

Abbott’s Cadbury promise unwrapped

A year after Tony Abbott announced a $16 million grant to Cadbury’s Tasmanian factory, nothing has happened except the exposure of government misinformation.

Internal emails obtained by Labor under Freedom of Information laws show that contrary to the Government telling Parliament that Cadbury had submitted a detailed justification for taxpayer assistance, no material was provided.

They also show the Government is forcing the bureaucracy to retrospectively create program guidelines to justify the grant more than seven months after it was announced.

In one email, senior Austrade bureaucrats revealed that they had no idea what Assistant Infrastructure Minister Jamie Briggs was talking about when claiming to have received “detailed information’’ from Cadbury.

We had better sort out with Infrastructure what Minister Briggs was referring to in his comment on detailed information before the ABC asks our MO [Ministerial Office] what we have.

Austrade, 9 April 2014

The Cadbury grant sparked controversy in Tasmania because it came as Tony Abbott axed a regional tourism grants program which was set to leverage millions of dollars in private matching investment for job-creating tourism projects in Tasmania.

It also came despite the Government’s refusal to help other manufacturers such as those in the car industry.

Cadbury’s parent company, Mondolez Australia Holdings, reported a 46% increase in its profits before tax to $124 million last year.

Senate estimates committee answers dated August 4 reveal that Austrade had not received a business case from Cadbury for the project – fully 11 months after the grant was announced.

Austrade is preparing program guidelines for this grant. Cadbury is preparing its business case, which will be assessed against the program guidelines. Senate Estimates, Budget Estimates Answers to Questions on Notice, 4 August 2014

It now appears that Minister for Trade and Investment misled the Parliament when he told the Federation Chamber on June 17 that Cadbury had justified the grant at the time of its announcement on August 28 last year.

Cadbury was announced. It was a very strong tourism proposal.

Andrew Robb, Hansard, Federation Chamber, 17 June 2014.

Andrew Robb must explain his remarks.

This grant always seemed to be more about politics than anything else.

These Freedom of Information documents suggest the decision was made on the run, without supporting evidence and without any analysis of whether it represented value for taxpayers’ funds.

And the Prime Minister must also explain to tourism operators across Australia why they deserve no assistance while Cadbury was allocated taxpayer money in the 2014-15 Budget despite supplying no information to justify the grant.