Grant to Premier’s minder may face further scrutiny

QUEENSLAND'S Auditor-General has been asked to consider a probe into the State Government fund that granted a $267,500 taxpayer handout for a cruise-tracking app to a company part-owned by ­Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk's chief-of-staff.

Deputy Opposition Leader Tim Mander yesterday penned a letter to Auditor-General Brendan Worrall calling for the lucrative $80 million Advance Queensland Business Development Fund to be audited, after it was revealed that a company part-owned by Ms Palaszczuk's chief-of-staff David Barbagallo received $267,500 to develop a new smartphone app called CruiseTraka.

The fund awards businesses between $125,000 and $2.5 million to develop their ideas, with the Government becoming a co-investor in the business in exchange for the cash.

Ms Palaszczuk's department has engaged Ernst and Young to look into the awarding of the funds to Fortress Capstone - of which Mr Barbagallo is a shareholder and a ­director - after she was blindsided by LNP questions on the cash during last week's Budget Estimates hearing.

 

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk with chief-of-staff David Barbagallo
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk with chief-of-staff David Barbagallo

 

But she has insisted Mr Barbagallo properly declared the business and the funding on his pecuniary interests register and sought integrity commissioner advice.

Neither will be publicly released.

Ms Palaszczuk said he withdrew his involvement in the application process when he joined her office in 2017.

 

Shadow treasurer Tim Mander
Shadow treasurer Tim Mander

 

Mr Mander said an independent eye needed to go over the fund and its decision to invest in Mr Barbagallo's company.

"The receipt of taxpayer funds by a company part-owned by an individual at the very top of the Queensland Government is clearly an issue of serious concern," Mr Mander wrote to Mr Worrall.

"I request that your audit consider - the application process for the Business Development Fund; whether the grant has fulfilled its stated purpose, including creating new high-value and skilled employment; the prospect of Queenslanders receiving a return on their investment; and whether Fortress Capstone has complied with the reporting requirements."

The Barbagallo revelation last week added to the Government's conflict-of-interest woes, following the scandal engulfing Treasurer Jackie Trad and the purchase of a house by her husband in a prime Woolloongabba location close to the Cross River Rail development.

In a further development last night, it was reported that Ms Trad's husband Damien van Brunschot told neighbours he planned to build a second cottage on the lot.