19 May 2020
Analysis by the Greens of the $250 million “Stronger Communities Fund” shows the fund that was designed to help councils impacted by the Coalition’s disastrous amalgamations policy was overwhelmingly spent on councils in Coalition held electorates with only 2% of the funding going to councils in opposition held electorates, while 80% went to councils in entirely coalition held seats. The Greens NSW will be referring the scheme to ICAC today to review the allocations, decision-making and transparency.
Funding was largely allocated in the run up to the 2019 State Election in March (with some allocations as late as 28 February 2019). The analysis shows almost $200 million in funding was given to councils in coalition held seats and only $5 million in councils in opposition seats. Some $45 million went to councils that straddled coalition and opposition electorates.
Located in a blue ribbon Liberal seat, Hornsby Council received the largest grant from the fund with $90 million, more than that granted to all opposition and mixed council areas alone. The Liberal Mayor of Hornsby is Philip Ruddock, a former Federal Liberal Minister and current President of the NSW Liberal Party.
In the Nationals heartland Dubbo Council received almost $28 million while Northern Beaches Council received over $21 million. This compares with Labor heartland Burwood with $2.6 million and Randwick City Council with $2.58 million – both areas experiencing significant growth and demand for expanded council services and infrastructure. Most councils in opposition held electorates did not receive a dollar.
Greens MP and Local Government Spokesperson David Shoebridge said:
“This scheme delivered almost $200 million to councils in Coalition held seats and just $5 million to councils in non-government held state electorates. There’s a term for this partisan misuse of public money and it’s called pork-barrelling.
“It’s astounding that they thought they could get away with handing out over a quarter of a billion dollars of public money like this in the lead up to a state election.
“This is the latest in a string of grants scandals that Coalition governments are facing, they seem to think taxpayer’s money is their own personal slush fund.
“The failed council amalgamation policy was a political disaster for the NSW Coalition and now we can see how they used public money to buy their way out of it in their heartland and key marginals.
“It wasn’t just safe Coalition seats that saw this money, it was also key coalition-held marginals like Murray and Coogee where they were facing serious challenges in the state election.
“This is a slap in the face for local councils across the state that have been under such pressure, first from the bushfires and now the pandemic.
“There will be councils and local communities across the state who see this abuse of public trust and lose even more faith in state politics. I understand their disgust but the only answer is to keep engaged and try and force change.
“We have had to fight for every single detail of this council grants scheme from bureaucrats who seem to think they have to protect the government from parliamentary scrutiny, and that’s not meant to be their job.
“Today we are referring the entire scheme to ICAC to review how the guidelines were created and how they were applied,” Mr Shoebridge said.