‘Must have a good local member’: PM defends funding controversy

Scott Morrison is accused of saying Cook voters wanted an identifiable Australian candidate, not a Lebanese Muslim.

Scott Morrison is accused of saying Cook voters wanted an identifiable Australian candidate, not a Lebanese Muslim. Photo: AAP

Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese has blasted as a “disgrace” analysis that found Coalition-held seats got nearly four times as much grant funding as Labor ones, claiming the federal government is “rotten to the core”.

But Prime Minister Scott Morrison has shrugged off the controversy, claiming Coalition seats received far more than nearby similar Labor seats because they “have a good local member”.

It was a defence rejected by one Labor MP, who claimed every single one of her funding proposals had been rejected by the government at the last budget, despite months of work in her Brisbane electorate. In contrast, Defence Minister Peter Dutton’s neighbouring seat got more than 46 times as much government funding.

“They’ve completely corrupted the granting process … these rorts need to stop,” Mr Albanese said.

Mr Morrison shrugged off the reports. Photo: AAP

He was responding to reports in the Nine newspapers, which analysed the allocation of 19,000 federal grants in the past three years, for which the government had discretionary power to allocate. Coalition electorates were given $1.9 billion, but Labor-held seats got less than $530 million, the Nine papers reported.

The New Daily has reported on the proliferation of such grants, and the apparent partisan bias of their allocation, for several years.

Asked in Launceston about the Nine report, Mr Albanese said he was upset that Labor seats had seemingly been passed over for funding.

“In my electorate of Grayndler, they’ve received $700,000 of Commonwealth grants funding at the same time as the electorate just next door that has a very similar composition, Reid, has received $15 million,” he said.

Reid, in Sydney’s inner-west, adjoins Grayndler but is a marginal seat held by Coalition MP Fiona Martin.

“Taxpayers don’t pay different rates of tax according to what electorate they’re in. But what we know is that unless you’re in a marginal National or Liberal Party seat, you won’t receive the same support as those voters do,” Mr Albanese said.

“The pork-barrelling is just out of control … this government seems to be determined to brush it off.”

Mr Morrison, visiting Brisbane, gave his own press conference shortly after. He was asked about discrepancies in funding between Labor-held Lilley, which received $932,000 according to the analysis, and Mr Dutton’s seat of Dickson, which got $43.6 million.

“Dickson must have a very good local member,” Mr Morrison said, before laughing and listing other members of his team who he said were “great local members”.

“They’re doing great jobs and they’re advocating for their communities.”

Mr Morrison went on to say that grant applications “have to comply with the guidelines and they have to be able to be executed by the government in accordance with the policies to be laid down”.

“These analyses have looked at very small numbers of those programs,” he claimed.

Finance Minister Simon Birmingham later told Sky News he thought the Nine analysis was “selective” and did not take into account many other government funding programs, which also sent billions into Labor seats. However, host Kieran Gilbert countered that the analysis was specifically of discretionary programs, which the government has power to dole out.

Mr Morrison’s response was blasted by Anika Wells, the Labor MP for Lilley, who furiously maintained that she had lodged detailed funding applications for her electorate directly with the office of Treasurer Josh Frydenberg.

Ms Wells told The New Daily she had worked for six months on a detailed submission to the federal budget for her area. It was informed by months of community consultation through mobile offices and public surveys.

She said she hand-delivered the eight-page proposal to Mr Frydenberg’s Parliament House office, but complained that not a single one of her 30 proposals was funded.

Labor MP Anika Wells. Photo: AAP

Lilley, centred around Brisbane’s airport, has been held by Labor for 39 of the past 41 years. It is one of the most marginal seats in the country, on a margin of 0.6 per cent.

“I am incandescent. How do you define ‘good local member’, if not what I and the people of Lilley have done this term?” Ms Wells told TND, referring to her budget submission.

“I prepared it in time for the budget last year, handed in a submission, hand-delivered it to the Treasurer’s office. I even joked to them ‘this is a list for how you can win Lilley’.”

“Not a single one in the entire submission was funded by the Morrison government. I could not have made it easier for them to fund priority projects that have come from community consultations.”

Ms Wells said she was offended by Mr Morrison’s response on Wednesday.

“That chortling about how [Mr Dutton] is a good local member; what more could I be doing?” she said.

Mr Albanese said the issue strengthened the case for a national integrity commission.

“Taxpayer funds are ones that are paid for by the hard workers such as at this company here. They deserve better than to have their funds, their taxpayer funds from their hard work, funnelled into marginal electorates on the basis of a political whim,” he said.

“You can just not do it. You don’t need a measure to know that this is a system that is broken and a government that is morally bankrupt.”

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