A Queensland abattoir given $5.4 million under a regional jobs program at the insistence of Coalition ministers despite being ineligible for the scheme has only delivered 18 of the 200 promised jobs in near two years since receiving the money.
Parliament's public accounts and audit committee heard on Friday Nolan Meats had only spent 20 per cent of its Regional Jobs and Investment Packages grant, which expires in December this year.
The project was not originally ranked among the applications as it was ineligible but said once it was scored, it would have come in equal 48th out of 62 projects.
The Department of Infrastructure said as of January 31, the company spent $1.1 million of the grant and had created 18 full-time equivalent jobs.
Infrastructure Minister Michael McCormack said previously the program had created 1100 jobs so far, meaning there was a rough cost of $200,000 per job to the taxpayer.
Public Accounts committee deputy chair Julian Hill asked whether the department considered "rough expenditure of $61,000 per job value for money" in the case of Nolan Meats.
Infrastructure Department deputy secretary Rachel Bacon said,"I don't think our opinions around that are particularly relevant".
But Nolan Meats director Tony Nolan pointed out the project was still in the construction stage .
"It's a poor time to do an assessment on return on investment when we're in the construction phase. There are loads of contractors on site and there are lots of stages of the project," he told The Canberra Times.
He said the project would be finished before the grant term expired on December 4, 2020.
Mr Nolan also said the company had tipped more of its own money into the project than it originally told the department it would.
"We doubled what we said we were going to spend," Mr Nolan said.
One of the aims of the program was to leverage as much private sector investment as possible, to give an economic boost to struggling regional communities. Ultimately, the program allowed nearly $670 million of projects to get off the ground.
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The Gympie meat processor has become a key focus of the inquiry after it was identified as the sole ineligible recipient in the $220 million grants scheme.
It was excluded due to its status as a registered training organisation, but ministers pushed for it to be included as that was "incidental" to the business.
Mr Nolan said they'd been considering dropping the status for years as it was a hassle to maintain, but kept it so they could provide qualifications to their staff. He said the company had never trained anyone other than an employee to his knowledge, although they had let TAFE in Toowoomba use their premises to train Indonesian people in animal welfare and abattoir operations.
It has also emerged former regional development minister John McVeigh's office asked the Infrastructure Department to reconsider Nolan Meats for the grant, despite Dr McVeigh recusing himself from the panel due to a conflict of interest and his brother receiving work from the company.
The company had also given a $3000 donation to the Liberal-National Party of Queensland on November 10, 2017. The company submitted its grant application on August 15, 2017 after withdrawing an earlier application on July 31. Dr McVeigh's office had an email exchange with the department about its eligibility on February 7 and 8, and the grant was awarded on April 3, 2018.
The committee heard it was former development minister Fiona Nash who first raised the case of Nolan Meats, before her replacement Dr McVeigh continued to push the department on its eligibility.
Mr Nolan said he had not been in contact with either minister about the grant, only the department.
He also said the company's donation to the Liberal-National Party was not a conflict of interest.
"We support the National Party, we believe they support rural and regional Queensland best and it's in our region's interest to have good representation," Mr Nolan said.
The inquiry was sparked by an Australian National Audit Office report, which found Coalition ministers overruled departmental advice to approve nearly $80 million worth of grants.
The Wide Bay Burnett region - where Gympie is - was one of two regions where ministers overturned the most funding decisions.