National News

Nationals defend controversial jobs scheme

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Nationals leader Michael McCormack (pictured) has defended a controversial regional jobs fund (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas)

Nationals leader Michael McCormack has defended a controversial regional jobs fund that handed out cash to projects against the advice of department officials.

The auditor-general identified serious flaws with the federal government's $220 million Regional Jobs and Investment Packages program.

The report found ministers rejected 28 per cent of recommended applications and approved 17 per cent without recommendation.

Mr McCormack, one of the ministers on a panel handing out the grants, said decisions were based on what was best for regional economies.

"The ultimate decision is made by the minister. It's not the bureaucracy, it's not the department and I'm sure that Australians would want that to happen," he told reporters on Tuesday.

"Australians wouldn't want the public service running the nation. They want the people they elect running the nation."

Asked whether he would release ministerial documents underpinning the decisions, the deputy prime minister said he stood by the projects chosen.

The audit found an application which was assessed as being ineligible was still given funding, and 10 out of 19 late applications were given the nod.

Eligibility requirements were not consistently applied, while applications were not soundly assessed within the program's guidelines.

Mr McCormack said aside from the list of recommendations, he looked at other projects the government felt were "value for money" to turn around the economic fortunes of country communities.

"That's why I know the benefits are going to be writ large across regional Australia," he said.

The auditor-general's report was released on Melbourne Cup day, leading to accusations the government was trying to bury the findings.

Labor has described the program as "regional rorts" and demanding further investigation.

However, the audit found "no bias clearly evident" in assessment and decision-making processes.

Mr McCormack said the grants helped address youth unemployment, and were all directed to regional areas unlike similar programs under the previous Labor government.

"I know that they're going to bring about economic growth and that is so important," the Nationals leader said.

"At the end of the day that's what is most important. Not a discussion about who funded what and why they funded it."

© AAP 2019