Will pork-barrelling cost the government the election?

The end of the parliamentary sitting year is here and with the next election just around the corner the federal government will soon be preparing to enter full campaign mode, if it hasn’t already.

Campaign season means the Liberal and National parties will be getting ready to spruik their ‘strong economic managers’ message – a consistent theme in past campaigns. But how well has the Morrison government actually managed taxpayer funds?

Research compiled by thinktank The Australia Institute has revealed that since its election in 2013, the federal LNP has spent $3.9 billion on grants programs with ‘ministerial discretion’. This means the minister has the personal power to award (or not award) grants.

Of this $3.9 billion, $2.8 billion (71 per cent) has gone to projects in government-held seats, with projects in Labor seats seemingly neglected, according to the research.

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The study found safe Coalition seats received more than $1.6bn, marginal Coalition seats more than $1.1bn, marginal Labor seats about $550m, safe Labor seats $255m and seats held by micro-parties or independents $132m.

In per capita terms, marginal Coalition seats have received $184 per person in national grants, while safe Labor seats received just $39 per person.

“The Australian government’s use of grants programs has been criticised on the grounds that the programs have been used for political benefit instead of grants being awarded based on community need and project merit,” the report states.

“Allegations have been made that grants with ministerial discretion have been used for party political purposes, rather than funding being distributed based on community need and project merit.”

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There have been a number of high-profile revelations about the allocation of taxpayer funds over the past few years.

The ‘sport rorts‘ affair saw more than $100m in grants announced during the caretaker period before the last election; and the more recent ‘car park rorts‘ scandal saw more than half a billion dollars awarded to 47 car park projects, none of which were recommended by the infrastructure department.

Labor introduced an ‘anti-rorting’ bill into the Senate in August and says if elected it will introduce a series of new regulations aimed at preventing this kind of targeted spending of taxpayer money, otherwise known as ‘pork-barrelling’.

Labor says it would work closely with state governments and local councils to ensure the projects had support, and were needed, before they were announced. The new laws would also increase the transparency and accountability of decision-making processes.

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“There has been sports rorts, regional rorts, safer seats rorts and, most recently and perhaps most egregiously, the ‘pork and ride’ commuter carpark rorts that have seen billions of dollars in grant funding pork-barrelled across the country by Scott Morrison to buy votes and win an election,” Labor Senator Katy Gallagher said in a statement.

“This bill will force ministers who approve grants rejected by their departments or who award grants in their own electorates to report the decision to the finance minister within 30 days and cause those reports to be tabled in the parliament within five sitting days.

“This will dramatically reduce the time ministers are able to hide their dodgy decisions from the Australian community.”

Does pork-barrelling at election time bother you? Would it cause you to switch your vote? Let us know in the comments section below.

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Written by Brad Lockyer

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