Minister’s role a link in grant to ineligible business
Former regional development minister John McVeigh’s office asked the Infrastructure Department to reconsider for a regional jobs grant a Queensland abattoir that was technically ineligible because it was also a registered training organisation.
Queensland Abattoir Nolan Meats in Gympie received nearly $5 million under the $220 million Regional Jobs and Investment Package grants scheme to double the size of its meat processing facility. Dr McVeigh’s brother Michael’s company McVeigh Consultancy was hired to help with this expansion. The department said Nolan Meats had twice been ruled ineligible for a grant because of its status as an RTO.
The Auditor General singled out the scheme in a scathing review because government ministers had intervened to get the department to re-assess the ineligible application. The company was not named in the audit, but in response to a question on notice, the Department of Infrastructure confirmed it was Nolan Meats.
A parliamentary inquiry later heard that a group of Coalition ministers kept no records of a critical meeting during which they overturned the department’s recommendation and awarded $5 million to the Liberal National donor.
Dr McVeigh reportedly recused himself from the ministerial panel making the final call on grants, citing a conflict of interest stemming from the fact that Nolan Meats sat on a beef advisory council when he was Queensland Agriculture Minister.
Some 12 projects, including four RTOs, were disqualified because they did not meet the scheme’s guidelines. All were given the opportunity to submit a case to support why they should not be considered ineligible. Nolan Meats was one of two applicants that did this. The AusIndustry Business Grants Hub reconsidered the two applications but did not change their assessments, the department said.
“Minister McVeigh’s office advised that the Ministerial Panel had a strong preference to fund this project as the [RTO] element of Nolan Meats’ business was considered incidental to the project for which they were seeking funding under [the Regional Jobs and Investment Packages],” the question on notice reads.
A spokeswoman for Dr McVeigh said his office merely sought to clarify that the abattoir’s registered training organisation status was “publicly known to be incidental to their business activities and not their primary business activity as a meat abattoir”. She also said Dr McVeigh was unaware of his brother’s work with Nolan Meats when its application came before the ministerial panel.