Michael Pascoe: Political coroner finds Coalition deeply and brazenly corrupt

The latest chapter of the coroner’s report unsurprisingly finds the Coalition government was a particularly diseased body when it was put down on May 21.

The Australian National Audit Office (ANAO), acting as council assisting the coroner, on Thursday reported on one of the cancers eating away at the Abbott/Turnbull/Morrison/Joyce/McCormack/Joyce government – the corruption of the $1.15 billion Building Better Regions fund.

The ANAO report shows, yet again, that the Coalition in general and the National Party in particular weren’t just pork-barrel rollers, weren’t just up for a little rorting. They were flagrantly corrupt in their handing of public money.

It is one unacceptable thing to fiddle funds a bit to steer cash a favoured electorate’s way. It is on another scale again to design multibillion-dollar schemes to avoid due process, to avoid proper accountability, to use Commonwealth money for party political ends, to buy votes with handouts and gifts at the cost of ignoring genuine need.

That is precisely what the Coalition did almost from the day Tony Abbott became prime minister. The daddy of all the funding corruption, the Community Development Grants scandal, was designed on Abbott’s watch to specifically avoid public service oversight and effectively hand billions of dollars to government MPs to splash around their electorates without any concern at all for whether taxpayers were getting value for money.

Unworthy projects

The audit of the $1.15 billion Building Better Regions fund shows the National Party remained capable until the end of perverting due process to do whatever members fancied with your money.

Two-thirds of the projects falling off the back of the Nationals’ tractor were not assessed by the relevant department as having the highest merit.

As the program went on and the election drew nearer, the corruption was only made more obvious by the government’s efforts to hide it.

In rounds three and five of the program, the Infrastructure Department stopped providing merit-based recommendations for grants, avoiding that potential embarrassment of National Party politicians dismissing said recommendations.

Instead, the department offered to its political masters “a pool of projects” vastly bigger than the available funds from which the politicians could select their favourites.

The contents of the pool ranged from the worthy to the frivolous. The Nationals on the panel pretty much did whatever they wanted and certainly didn’t mind frivolity.

In the way of the ANAO’s tendency to gentle understatement:

“As the program has progressed through the first five rounds, there has been an increasing disconnect between the assessment results against the published merit criteria and the applications approved for funding under the infrastructure projects stream.”

Money skewed for political ends

The politicians involved of course claim they knew better than public servants what was good for regional Australia. It was no doubt entirely coincidental that the cash skewed overwhelmingly towards their key electorates, disproportionately disadvantaging the disadvantaged elsewhere.

To use a favourite technical term, this is bull—t. The politicians involved might be fooling themselves – might – but they fool nobody else as the stench of corruption was an important factor in the rise of the “teals” and Morrison/Joyce losing the election.

This comes as no surprise to regular readers of The New Daily. Ever since #sportsrorts broke, we have been delving into the corruption of numerous federal grants and funds, assisted by spreadsheet sleuth and blogger Vince O’Grady.

From the biggest billion-dollar scandals down to the pathetically petty, to the bias in gifts to bowling clubs and golf clubs in the “right” electorates, we have shown how money was deployed politically.

The politicians who came to accept this corruption as “normal” are unfit for public office. It cannot be brushed away, there is no “they all do it” mitigation available. It must be stopped for the good of the nation.

The Albanese government, the “teals” and the Greens are promising reform of the various grants and funds to instil integrity in the use of public money.

The Liberal, National and LNP members need to accept the reality of what they were part of and get on board the reform – or they will remain forever tainted as corrupt and unfit for government.

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