The Greens have secured the release of secret government emails outlining the politicised allocation of funding under a $400 million Coalition-biased Government grants program. The grants program was called the “Stronger Country Communities Fund.”
In the lead up to the 2019 state election, the scheme allocated three times the funding to residents in coalition held seats than residents in non-Government held state electorates received. The fund allocated hundreds of millions of dollars to projects in regional NSW including renovating town halls, playgrounds and community infrastructure but the skew in this funding towards councils in Coalition-held seats before the 2019 election shows a clear attempt to pork-barrel communities for partisan political interests.
Greens analysis of the first $300 million in grants in rounds one and two of the Stronger Country Communities Funding shows a huge skew towards Coalition seats where the average funding was $153 per resident, as compared to $53 per resident in non-Coalition seats.
Some of the Coalition seats that were marginal in the lead up to the 2019 election show a clear skew in funding with significant per capita grants under the scheme in the two rounds of funding before the election. This includes councils covering the state electorate of Barwon which received on average $462.36 per resident, in the electorate of Murray councils received $309.56 per person, Cootamundra with $384.64 per resident and Upper Hunter with $247.60 per resident.
Meanwhile long suffering residents in safe non-government seats such as Maitland received just $36 per resident. Once the election was over and the urge to pork barrel for electoral purposes reduced, round three of the funding was allocated at an average of $42 per resident in Coalition seats to $39 in non-Government seats.
Previously secret emails show that the announcement of all successful grants was manipulated for maximum partisan benefit by the Deputy Premier’s office. Successful recipients of grants were required to sign non-disclosure agreements binding them until Government MPs could make the announcement to local media. This included for all non-government seats where the local non-government MPs were expressly excluded.
Greens MP David Shoebridge said:
“Once again the Coalition is treating projects in the regions as political playthings, with deliberate pork-barreling in the lead up to the last state election.
“Communities in electorates held by non-government members have been dudded by this policy, and if they are wondering why their community hall is still leaking, or their sports fields haven’t been upgraded, then the answer is here.
“We see from the emails released that there is open communication about how Government MPs will be announcing each of the grants, and this even included the relatively few successful grants in non-government electorates.
“Councils were even forced to sign confidentiality agreements so they couldn’t even tell local residents what improvements were coming until the Government media team lead by the Deputy Premier was ready to go.
“The Deputy Premier takes pride in this highly politicised misallocation of public money, openly labelling himself “Pork Barrell-aro.” It is unbelievable that the Premier refuses to call him out on this and ensure public money is allocated on need rather than political advantage.
“When public money is being doled out at an average of $153 per resident in government held seats and just $53 per resident in non-coalition held seats the unfairness and bias is plain to see.
“It’s no wonder people are becoming ever more cynical about politics when they see state and federal coalition governments treating public money like their private political slush fund.
“As the chair of the committee overseeing these government grants I can assure you that this Stronger Country Communities Fund will be at the top of the agenda as the inquiry rolls out,” Mr Shoebridge said.