The NSW Deputy Premier will be grilled on Monday over why three areas in non-Coalition electorates didn’t receive any funding through the government’s bushfire grant program, despite suffering millions of dollars in losses.
Last year the NSW government handed out $180 million for projects in communities affected by the 2019/2020 Black Summer bushfires without an open application process.
The Blue Mountains didn’t receive any money even though government data found the area suffered an economic loss of $65 million.
The Central Coast also missed out and the hit to its economy was found to be $163 million.
Both are in Labor-held seats.
The NSW government also didn’t provide any funds in the Greens-held seat of Ballina although the Byron economy was found to have suffered an economic impact of $88 million.
Deputy Premier John Barilaro will front a parliamentary inquiry on Monday into government grants programs that has been extended to investigate the Bushfire Local Economic Recovery Fund.
Chair of the inquiry, Greens MP David Shoebridge, said politics was influencing who got money and who didn’t.
“There is no doubt that there were some Coalition held seats that had very real damage from the fires,” he said.
“But then equally we saw seats held by the Greens, held by Labor and held by the Shooters Fishers and Farmers party which had very real damage as well… and they did not get a cent.
“Now that’s politics.”
Barilaro says criticism a ‘witch hunt’
Deputy Premier John Barilaro defended the program, which he was responsible for overseeing, and said such criticism was a “witch hunt”.
“If we fund government seats, they say that’s pork-barrelling,” he said.
“If we fund non-government seats, they say we are trying to pick up those seats.”
The areas most devastated by last summer’s bushfires were the South Coast and Snowy Valleys, which are mostly in government-held seats.
The government data identified the Shoalhaven as suffering the worst economic losses from bushfires, totalling $345 million, followed by the Bega Valley, with $218 million. Both received tens of millions in funding.
The Liberal-held area of Goulburn, where the economic impact was $17 million, was estimated to have received more than $10 million in grants.
There is now a second round of grants, providing $250 million, which is subject to an open application process.
The Deputy Premier is expected to be questioned by Upper House MPs at the parliamentary inquiry about how the government decided to allocate the funds.
Premier Gladys Berejiklian has so far refused to front the inquiry.
Last year, when an inquiry investigated the $250 million Stronger Communities Fund, which distributed $141 million to Coalition seats, Ms Berejiklian admitted the government had engaged in pork-barrelling.
“I think all governments and all oppositions make commitments to the community in order to curry favour,” she said.
“But in relation to this program, [the money] went to important projects across this state, yes, more of them went to Coalition seats, but guess what – there are more Coalition seats than any other.
“It’s not an illegal practice. Unfortunately, it does happen from time to time by every government.”