Finance Finance News Michael Pascoe: Senators go fishing in corrupt community grants pool
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Michael Pascoe: Senators go fishing in corrupt community grants pool

The corrupt use of public funds doesn’t come much more blatant, writes Michael Pascoe. Photo: TND
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The Senate passed a Greens motion on Monday ordering the Minister for Infrastructure, Regional Development and Cities to table documents by Wednesday relating to the government’s $2.5 billion Community Development Grants rort.

The relevant minister, Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack, has prior form in not complying with a Senate Order for Production of Documents (OPD) when shedding light on rampant pork barrelling might prove embarrassing.

Senators Larissa Waters and Janet Rice won sufficient support for a motion seeking CDG documentation.

They may have more success than Labor did last year seeking documents on the government’s rorted regional grants scheme.

The key difference is that the CDG racket was carefully crafted to avoid any embarrassing assessment of grant suitability by public servants, as happened with the regional grants and #sportsrorts.

Unless Mr McCormack’s office is feeling particularly obtuse, there’s a fair chance the OPD will be complied with as the only criterion for the department to evaluate the grants was that the government had already approved them.

Corrupt use of public funds doesn’t come much more blatant.

The result, as previously reported here, is astounding political bias in the allocation of funding to electorates.

Australia’s poorest electorates have received nothing or very little from what Mr McCormack boasts is a $2.5 billion program, while some of the richest rake in many millions and National Party seats are left rolling in it like pigs in clover, to extend the pork barrel talk.

With the help of spreadsheet consolidation by Vince O’Grady, The New Daily has previously reported on the extent of the Morrison/McKenzie #sportsrorts and CDG bias.

Mr O’Grady also has consolidated spreadsheets covering regional development grants under the Coalition up to the end of last year.

Surprise, surprise – the pork barrel rolled out in much the same fashion despite some involvement by public servants in assessing projects.

The National Party, with just 10 of the House of Representatives’ 151 seats, scored 18 per cent of the regional grants – $129.4 million of the total $719 million.

The Senate has ordered Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack to table documents related to the $2.5 billion community grants rorts. Photo: AAP

Queensland’s LNP won 23 seats, but those seats won 21 per cent of the regional grants, $152.9 million worth – only a fraction less than the $154.8 million that went to the 68 Labor seats.

Overall, Coalition seats grabbed 72.5 per cent of the money to Labor’s 21.5 per cent.

Using the word “regional” might indicate a geographical bias to National and LNP seats – but “regional” means whatever the government wants it to mean.

For example, Wentworth, Australia’s richest electorate, still managed to pick up $418,459 in “regional” grants.

North Sydney, the seat that topped the CDG winnings with $45 million, scored $437,417 in “regional” grants.

(North Sydney also did particularly well out of #sportsrorts – and none of these figures include the promised $10 million for the North Sydney Pool from the government’s Female Facilities and Water Safety pot that was originally pitched at “removing barriers” for women participating in sport “in our regions”.)

And one of the few Labor seats to do relatively well out of these grants ($6.4 million) was Anthony Albanese’s electorate of Grayndler in the inner-west “region” of Sydney.

So the “regional” nomenclature is a nonsense.

The repeated pattern in the government’s administration of billions of dollars in grants is that they are mostly whatever the government wants them to be for its own political purposes.

Mr O’Grady said he started analysing the way the various grants were distributed suspecting they might provide a “smoking gun” for the use of taxpayer funds to sway marginal electorates.

“Looking at [the] electorate level still didn’t provide a smoking gun until I realised that the whole scheme was the smoking gun,” he said.

It is as plain as day that the strategy to keep the Coalition on the Treasury benches is to keep the Nationals and LNP seats happy and voting them back again and again.”

As previously demonstrated here, examining the CDG scheme does indicate marginal electorates are remarkably “lucky” when it comes to grants.

What is not clear – and never will be if the smoking shotgun of #sportsrorts is a guide – is who has been doing the co-ordination of the public purse looting, how far up the Coalition leadership tree it travels.

The Expenditure Review Committee comprises of the Coalition leadership – and it’s the body that weighs the purpose of spending and OKs the cash.

And as was demonstrated in #sportsrorts correspondence between the offices of Mr Morrison and Senator McKenzie, the PMO was across the detail of how various grants were divvied up, happy to dip the political hand in different honey pots to make up for an electorate’s pork barrel being perceived as inadequate.

The rorts erode trust in government at a time when billions are flying out the door. Photo: AAP

It is possibly just another coincidence that after the Nationals’ Victorian seat of Mallee did uncharacteristically poorly on the CDG swings, it did very nicely – $25.3 million – on the regional roundabout.

The corrupt use of public funds for targeting electorates is another factor in weakening trust in politics.

If a government can’t be trusted to allocate the billions of dollars in these grants on the basis of need and worthiness, it is difficult to trust it with the allocation of any funds.

On Monday, Mr Morrison fulfilled predictions that there would be limited new stimulus spending to try to shorten the recession.

While re-announcing some projects (just how many times can inland rail be announced or “brought forward”?) and broadening the government’s previous definitions of infrastructure spending, digging between the figures revealed precious little extra money given the size of the task.

How those few billion are deployed will matter very much if they are to be effective.

On the strength of the CDG, regional and #sportsrorts spending, there’s no reason to expect the best.