A Labor MP has reacted with rage at Scott Morrison’s suggestions that a Liberal-held electorate next to hers received 46 times as much government funding because it had “a good local member”, as the Coalition is under fire over analysis showing it heavily favoured its own seats for public funding.
Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese used the latest pork-barrelling scandal to warn if Labor won next year’s election, he would institute a federal anti-corruption body with powers to investigate Coalition spending.
Mr Albanese slammed the government as “morally bankrupt”.
But Mr Morrison refused to admit any fault in the spending program, literally laughing off questions and querying the media reporting underpinning the criticisms.
“That chortling about how he’s a good local member; what more could I be doing?” asked Labor MP Anika Wells.
Grants spending questioned
The Nine newspapers on Wednesday analysed the allocation of thousands of federal grants in recent years.
Their reporting found Coalition electorates were given $1.9 billion, but Labor-held seats received less than $530 million.
Ms Wells was responding after the analysis found her seat of Lilley, in Brisbane’s north, received $932,000.
The neighbouring seat of Dickson, held by Defence Minister Peter Dutton was given $43.6 million – a whopping 46 times as much as Lilley.
The grants are additional to previous Coalition government funding scandals including the so-called ‘sports rorts’ and ‘carpark rorts’ episodes, and criticisms of pork-barrelling in the Building Better Regions and community safety funds.
Speaking in Brisbane, Mr Morrison was asked by media about the particularly stark comparison between Lilley and Dickson.
“Dickson must have a very good local member,” Mr Morrison said, before laughing and listing other members of his team who he said were “great local members”.
“They’re doing great jobs and they’re advocating for their communities.”
The PM also claimed the analysis was “selective analysis of 11 programs out of 1700”, and told people to “form their own judgments about that”.
The Nine analysis found that, of other seats around Lilley, the Liberal-helds seat of Brisbane ($30.26 million), Petrie ($18.3 million), Bonner ($6.19 million) and Ryan ($3.95 million) also got more than nearby Labor seats of Moreton ($1.52 million) and Griffith ($2 million).
Ms Wells said she was “incandescent” with anger at both the funding disparity between neighbouring seats, and Mr Morrison’s response.
She told The New Daily she had lodged detailed funding applications for her electorate directly with the office of Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, after six months of community consultation through mobile offices and public surveys.
She said she hand-delivered the eight-page proposal to Mr Frydenberg’s Parliament House office, but complained that not one of her 30 proposals was funded.
“How do you define ‘good local member’, if not what I and the people of Lilley have done this term?” Ms Wells asked TND, referring to her budget submission.
“I prepared it in time for the budget last year, handed in a submission, hand-delivered it to the Treasurer’s office. I even joked to them ‘this is a list for how you can win Lilley’.”
Lilley, centred around Brisbane’s airport, has been held by Labor for 39 of the past 41 years.
It is one of the most marginal seats in the country, on a margin of 0.6 per cent.
“Not a single one in the entire submission was funded by the Morrison government. I could not have made it easier for them to fund priority projects that have come from community consultations,” Ms Wells said.
Albanese warns Morrison to expect corruption probe
Following the government’s failure to introduce legislation for an anti-corruption commission into Parliament this year, three years after it was first promised, Wednesday’s funding scrutiny reignited calls from Labor and the Greens for such a body to be stood up.
Previous investigations found Coalition-led funding programs were dramatically skewed toward marginal seats the government wanted to retain or win from the opposition.
“Pork barrelling will only stop when we have a federal ICAC with teeth that makes politicians accountable,” Greens leader Adam Bandt said.
Mr Albanese, speaking in Launceston, claimed the government had “completely corrupted the granting process”.
“This is a system that is broken and a government that is morally bankrupt,” he alleged.
“I put the Prime Minister on notice that a National Anti-Corruption Commission will be able to look at the sports rorts program and these rorted programs of taxpayer funds.”
Mr Albanese later told Tasmanian radio he would be “amazed if they didn’t look at” spending like the sports rorts program.
The issue of whether a federal corruption commission would have retrospective powers, to investigate conduct that occurred before the body existed, has been a key topic in the national debate.
Labor’s proposal would not prevent commissioners on the anti-corruption body choosing to take action on conduct that occurred before it was set up.
The Opposition claims the government’s proposed body, which has been labelled the “weakest” in the country by public integrity organisations, would not have such power to investigate government spending.
Mr Albanese told Tasmanian radio that Labor’s proposed commission would “have the opportunity to look at the measures going back” but that he “won’t direct them what to do”.
“We need funding based upon need, and not based just on, if you’re in a marginal seat, you get funding,” he said.
“This government has treated taxpayer funds like they’re the same as the funds of the Liberal and National Party. And it simply has got to stop.”