The NSW Labor leader has promised new policy aimed at reducing pork-barrelling in government funding grants.
While not illegal, pork-barrelling refers to government spending that is targeted at specific electorates to win votes.
Announcing his vision for NSW to party faithfuls at the Fresh Start Rally on Sunday, Leader of the NSW Opposition promised to overhaul the grants process, and increase auditing processes to ensure the integrity around grant funding if Labor wins the state election on March 25.
The announcement comes after a report released on Thursday from the Auditor-General, Margaret Crawford found the Deputy Premier’s office, then held by John Barilaro, went against guidelines which saw Labor-held electorates miss out on fast-tracked bushfire relief funding.
The Black Summer bushfires that claimed 26 lives and destroyed 2476 homes. Picture: Sam Mooy /Getty Images
Under Labor’s proposed rules, all natural disaster relief would be referred to the Auditor-General’s office with three months, and fast-track grants would be subject to performance-reviews.
Guidelines would ensure that funding applications would require clear, transparent and public guidelines and eligibility criteria that inform the awarding of grants. Justification for the application’s outcome must also be recorded in writing.
“Pork Barrelling starts small – but it gets into the marrow of a tired Political Party,” he said.
“Manipulating natural disaster funding doesn’t happen in the first year of a new Government – it happens after you’ve gotten away with pork-barrelling for 12 long years.”
Chris Minns promised to overhaul grant application processes, to stamp out pork-barrelling if NSW Labor wins the state election. Picture: NCA NewsWire/ Simon Bullard.
During the Fresh Start Rally, Mr Minns repeatedly criticised government processes which saw fast-tracked bushfire relief projects in Labor-held seats miss out on funding through the Bushfire Local Economic Recovery (BLER) scheme.
21 out of 22 approved projects were based in Liberal and National held electorates, with another project also approved in a seat held by an Independent. The Auditor-General questioned why a $1m threshold was put in place for grants and why irrelevant information on the project‘s electorates were also provided to Mr Barilaro’s office.
On Friday, the state government handed the report to the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) for review.
Mr Minns questioned why a proposal to build a toilet at the Mount Riverview Fire Station in the Labor-held Blue Mountains seat was denied, while $11 million was awarded to upgrade the Macleay Valley Skydiving Adventure Park.
“Given the service and the loss for the people of NSW – it makes it hard to believe that a Government would put politics in the middle of a disaster,” said Mr Minns.
A scathing report from the Auditor-General questioned processes around how bushfire relief funds were distributed. Picture: Sam Mooy/ Getty Images.
Cries for “a fresh start” were tirelessly repeated as NSW Opposition Leader Chris Minns handed down his vision for the state at the campaign rally. Former NSW Premiers, Bob Carr (1995-2005) and Barrie Unsworth (1986-88) were also in attendance.
With under seven weeks left till the March 25 state election, the Labor leader also promised to “rebuild” the state’s healthcare crisis, end privatisation and fix teacher staffing shortages, while addressing Labor members at the Joan Sutherland Performing Arts Centre in the ultra-marginal seat of Penrith.
The seat is currently held by former Deputy NSW Liberal Leader Stuart Ayres, however a redistribution of electoral boundaries reduced the margin to just 0.4 per cent. Former Penrith mayor, Karen McKeown is contesting the seat for Labor.
Labor’s campaign will focus on “a fresh start for NSW,” with the first of the party’s television ads being rolled out today.
The Coalition’s slogan aims to entice voters with promises to “keep NSW moving forward”.