Report reveals deep pork barrel
A NSW community grants program has been labelled “a brazen pork-barrel scheme”.
The New South Wales Parliamentary Committee has delivered its first report from an inquiry into the state government’s $252 million Stronger Communities Fund program.
The report found that 95 per cent of the Stronger Communities Fund grants went to councils in Coalition-held or marginal electorates.
“If there was a public benefit, that was by accident, not by design,” said committee chair Greens MP David Shoebridge
“What we see with this $252 million pork-barrel scheme is public funds being directed for partisan political benefits.
“We have seen a quarter-of-a-billion dollars of public money being handed out largely by the Premier and the Deputy Premier and being handed out to benefit the Coalition in the lead-up to the state election, to punish any local council that had stood up to the government and to provide unrelated third-party benefits to settle legal disputes.”
The inquiry found that guidelines for the fund were “deliberately devised” around certain legal disputes involving the Hornsby Shore Council and Parramatta City Council.
Premier Gladys Berejiklian and Deputy Premier John Barilaro were found to have approved projects for funding and directed the Office of Local Government to make the payments.
Committee member and Labor MP John Graham said the committee was forced to search “up hill and down dale to find out who actually approved” the grants.
“There's always someone stepping forward with a novelty cheque willing to speak to the community and claim credit,” he said.
“No one would claim credit, no one would accept responsibility for these funds.
“We know why - after the shredding, after the infamy which has accompanied this money - this committee finds on the basis of the evidence ... who was responsible.
“[The Premier and the Deputy Premier] approved these funds ... they are who is responsible for the maladministration of this fund.”
Mr Shoebridge said there was “almost no record keeping” for the scheme.
“It is inconceivable that a quarter-of-a-billion dollars of public money was handed out to project after project with no merit assessment, no documentation and when we sought to find out who made the decision, everyone ducked and weaved,” he said.
The committee called for the report and its transcripts of evidence to be referred to the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC).
It also wants the Board of the State Records and Archives Authority to reconsider their decision not to pursue action against the Premier and her office. The report says Ms Berejiklian breached the State Records Act by destroying notes regarding the grants.