Michael Pascoe: Government’s peak corruption scheme scores $400 million in 2020
The federal government’s corrupt Community Development Grants reached another milestone last year – some $400 million dished out in political bribes, nudging the CDG total close to $3 billion since the racket was started by the Abbott government in 2014.
At the current rate of rorting, CDG spending will pass $5 billion on its present timetable of running until 2026, by when it will have played a role in buying votes in four federal elections – assuming a Coalition win in the next one and that it doesn’t further inflate its slush fund of choice if it feels the need.
The CDG scandal is already nearly 30 times bigger than the notorious #sportsrorts pork barrel, on its way to 50 times.
And CDG spending is even more blatantly skewed towards Coalition seats and marginal seats of interest than Mr Morrison’s and Senator McKenzie’s #sportsrorts.
PM Scott Morrison attempted to avoid scrutiny of his office’s involvement in Bridget McKenzie’s handling of the sports grants program.
The result of the corrupt CDG structure and its administration by Coalition politicians and their political advisers last year is a ratio of more than 3 to 1 – 66 per cent to 21.
The Coalition holds 77 seats in the House of Representatives to Labor’s 68 – 51 per cent to 45.
Thus Coalition members gave their electorates 29 per cent more taxpayers’ money and Labor electorates 53 per cent less than they would have received on a purely proportionate basis.
This simple figuring doesn’t take into account which sectors of the population might have the greater need, which electorates are the most under-resourced, which projects might do the most good and provide the most bang for the taxpayers’ buck in the Australian community.
That’s because the CDG scheme is specifically designed to avoid those sorts of embarrassing questions, to be beyond any investigating by the pesky Auditor-General or second-guessing by any conscientious public servants.
The $3 billion CDG kitty has been divvied up purely at government members’ whim, as will the next $2 billion.
Bodies can only apply for a CDG if they have been pre-selected by the government. That’s about the only criterion.
That was courtesy of reader Vince O’Grady’s mastery of spreadsheets to mine the GrantsConnect site lists of government grants and to connect the grants to electorates.
Mr O’Grady provided an update on the scandal at the three-quarter mark last year and now has unleashed Excel on what GrantsConnect discloses for the calendar year, $392.4 million worth.
The site generally takes a little while to catch up with the spending allocation, so it’s a safe bet the final total will be more than $400 million.
Deputy PM Michael McCormack is the minister responsible for the CDG scheme.
At first glance, the 2020 carve up was 61 per cent Coalition, 26 per cent Labor with the balance for the six crossbench seats – outrageous but not the full story.
Big grants for safe Labor seats are very rare things, so Mr O’Grady dug further and found that the recipient postcode wasn’t necessarily where the money was spent.
For example, GrantsConnect shows a grant of $11 million for the Labor electorate of Chifley in Sydney’s western suburbs – an extraordinary amount for a safe Labor seat.
Turns out the money was actually for an indoor sports complex in Wagga Wagga – the home of Deputy Prime Minister and notionally the minister responsible for the CDG racket, Michael McCormack.
(Wagga also used to be the state seat for Gladys Berejiklian’s former close friend, Daryl Maguire. It has done well out of state and federal grants.)
Wagga Wagga was the state seat of NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian’s former close friend Daryl Maguire, while Mr McCormack holds the federal seat.
There is no suggestion of any attempt to hide the destination of CDG funds, it’s just the way the system works when the recipient body might be headquartered elsewhere.
In the Wagga case, the CDG grant was to the Police Citizens Youth Clubs NSW Ltd, which is headquartered in Chifley, for its Wagga project.
Similarly, a $1 million grant that showed up as being for the Labor seat of Grayndler is for the Canada Bay Council – primarily the Liberal seat of Reid.
And a fat $24.2 million in two grants for the Greens’ seat of Melbourne seems even more amazing – but $16.5 million of it was for the Collingwood Football Club and the rest for the National Cricket Campus and Allan Border Field in the LNP electorate of Brisbane.
AFL’s Collingwood Football Club received a $16.5 million grant under the scheme. Photo: Getty
As well as grants tending to be smaller and less common in Labor electorates, many, many more Opposition seats than Coalition seats miss out on CDG money altogether.
That’s not surprising – it’s the way this pork barrel is designed to roll.
Of the 68 Labor seats, 39 (57 per cent) did not receive a cent last year. Of the 77 Coalition seats, only 19 (25 per cent) missed out.
Nothing changed in the final quarter for two of Australia’s three poorest electorates – Spence in northern Adelaide and Blaxland in Sydney’s western suburbs. They remained among the seats receiving nothing.
Over the seven years and $3 billion of the CDG scandal, GrantConnect shows Spence has received $200,000 and Blaxland just $20,000.
The exception to prove the rule is that there is one electorate that has fared worse than Blaxland – the Liberal Party’s safest metropolitan seat, Bradfield, on Sydney’s North Shore.
The local member, Paul Fletcher, has proven very adept at obtaining multimillion-dollar grants for the Murdoch empire, but not a CDG cent for his voters.
Bradfield also was the Liberal seat to get the least out of #sportsrorts – a mere $2400 for the Lindfield Tennis Club.
Well, when the two-party-preferred result is 67 Liberal to 34 Labor, the local member hardly needs to buy votes.
When Premier Gladys Berejiklian was infamously caught with her hands in a $290 million pork barrel for the last NSW election, all but the chump change flowing to Coalition seats, she defended herself by saying it was not illegal.
No, it wasn’t illegal – like the CDG, the lawmakers made the law to make it legal to suit themselves.
But it was and is corrupt. That’s what politicians using many, many millions of public money for the sole purpose of holding power with no regard for ethics or equity is: Corruption.
The Morrison government has taken this corruption to an unprecedented level. It works and the Coalition is getting away with it – so it won’t stop.