Michael Pascoe: Rorting – do ‘they all do it’?

Claims of pork barrelling on both sides warrant greater scrutiny, Michael Pascoe says.

Claims of pork barrelling on both sides warrant greater scrutiny, Michael Pascoe says. Photo: AAP/TND

The Coalition members’ attempt to run interference in Senate estimates for their colleagues caught breaching ministerial standards on #carporkrorts basically came down to the claim “they all do it”.

Such is the low ebb of Australian politics.

When lacking integrity in the use of public funds, claim there is no integrity in the use of public funds.

Cue NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian and now Finance Minister Simon Birmingham effectively declaring “it is what it is – get over it”.

But do “they all do it”?

Senator Jane Hume made a big deal of an Australian National Audit Office report on two of the four rounds of Regional Australia Development Fund spending under the last Labor government.

Senator Jane Hume has highlighted one small aspect of the RADF spending at odds with the overall spending.

The RADF fourth round didn’t look good for Labor – the money flowed overwhelmingly to Labor electorates, projects recommended by the relevant department, most often those in Coalition seats, were rejected by the minister in favour of others. A certain whiff of pork.

Round four money flowed 69 per cent to Labor electorates. Nowhere near as bad as the #carpork corruption, but there’s still a blackened pot in there.

However, in the grander scheme of things, concentrating as Senator Hume did on that misses one point that is considerably larger and another that totally dwarfs it.

Basically, Senator Hume and other ministers are attempting to equate someone caught speeding by 11km/hr over the limit on the open road with someone who steals a garage full of cars, plays dodgems with them and then torches the lot deep in a national park.

Spreadsheet sleuth Vince O’Grady – a declared Labor Party member – has gone through the detail of the overall RADF spending.

While the RADF round four skewed heavily to Labor – money directed to western Sydney – rounds two and three had skewed heavily towards Coalition seats and round one was close to breakeven, as was the RADF overall.

The numbers:

  • Round one: Labor 52 per cent, Coalition 38 per cent, Independent 10 per cent
  • Round two: Labor 39 per cent, Coalition 61 per cent, Independent 0
  • Round three: Labor 29 per cent, Coalition 64 per cent, Independent 7 per cent
  • Round four: Labor 69 per cent, Coalition 24 per cent, Independent 7 per cent.

Round three involved less money than the other rounds, but the bottom line of all four rounds was 52 per cent Labor, 43 per cent Coalition, 5 per cent Independent.

There might have been a federal grants scheme since 2014 that allocated such a low percentage of funds to the government as 52 per cent, but I haven’t noticed it.

It’s easy to imagine a Coalition minister being banished to the backbench if he or she proposed such a miserable payoff for incumbency.

What’s more, the money involved is peanuts by  Abbott/Turnbull/Morrison standards, especially Morrison standards.

Alan Tudge and the #carpork rorts awarded more than $660 million in grants in the shadow of the 2019 election.

The RADF total allocation from 2010 to 2013 was $300 million to Labor electorates, $245 million to Coalition electorates and $31 million to independent electorates.

A lousy $300 million over four years? Alan Tudge, Scott Morrison and Michael McCormack splashed double that on #carporks in mere weeks in the shadow of the election.

And as regular readers know, #carporks, as blatant and egregious as the scandal remains, is but a tiny fraction of the many billions the Coalition helps itself to in government.

Upon gaining power, the Coalition swept some of the RADF money into its Community Development Grants racket – the granddaddy of rorting, specifically designed to avoid ANAO embarrassment and place billions of dollars at the whim of local members.

And then there are the infamous #sportsrorts et al.

sports rorts caretaker mode

Senator Bridget McKenzie was the fall guy in the infamous #sportsrorts that were traced to coloured spreadsheets in the Prime Minister’s office. But she has since returned.

They are the grants schemes, totalling billions, that have been shown to be rorted.

What’s even more frightening is the total amount being splashed about in grants by the Coalition.

The GrantConnect site shows that from the start of 2018 to last month, the government has handed out $63.7 billion in grants. Round it up, $64 billion in a bit over three-and-a-half years.

Given the lack of integrity in fiddling grants for political ends that we know about, there is good reason to wonder about the other $60 billion or so.

Biblical quotations can be dubious things – there tends to be one for all and every occasion and argument, but Luke 16:10 comes to mind:

“Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.”

Now, tell me again about how the RDAF compares with the Morrison government’s spending…

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