Michael Pascoe goes back over the maths on government grant rorts
Prime Minister Scott Morrison is calling for an international COVID-19 inquiry, but what sparked it? Photo: AAP/TND
I was lazy. I stopped counting politically rorted federal grant programs when I got to $1.1 billion.
I should have kept going to reach $8.1 billion.
That’s the total for 11 federal programs that have serious question marks – or worse – over their ethics, probity and basic governance.
That’s $8.1 billion of taxpayers’ money at the disposal of politicians who can’t be trusted not to use it for pork barrelling their way into government.
It makes Clive Palmer’s $83 million anti-Labor campaign look cheap.
In fairness, not all of that $8.1 billion has been spent – yet – and not all of it rorted.
But having watched the Morrison government so comprehensively raid the public purse, there’s no reason to believe they would spend the rest more responsibly.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Prime Minister Scott Morrison in Parliament on Monday. Photo: AAP
Now, when Australia is facing a potential financial crisis courtesy of the coronavirus, Scott Morrison is only sloganeering about possible “targeted, modest and scalable” financial assistance for the economy.
Mr Morrison’s office, the Cabinet Expenditure Review Committee and the Liberal Party’s campaign headquarters have proven to be adept at the targeted and scalable use of public money to get re-elected, but there was nothing modest about it.
When I added up a little over $1.1 billion in rorted programs last month, I was only trying to make a point about an inconsequential Liberal senator’s complaint about the size of the ABC’s annual budget.
That’s why I stopped.
But the rorts and rackets have kept rolling in over the past week or so, demanding a full accounting.
The score so far:
- $102.5 million for the infamous Community Sport Infrastructure Program, the straw that broke the pork barrel’s back because the government defrauded sporting club volunteers who were misled into thinking the projects would be chosen on their merits, not political expediency
- $150 million for the coalition’s spectacular “regional” swimming pools, that just happened to be overwhelmingly in Liberal seats, including $10 million for the region of the North Sydney pool
- $272 million Regional Growth Fund most of which was dished out in a hurry just before the election and no prize for guessing which colour electorates overwhelmingly pocketed the largesse
- $841.6 million for the Building Better Regions Fund. This loot is spread over four years, so I erred on the side of caution the first time round in only counting the election year splurge – but we all know better now
- $200 million in government advertising in the lead up to the election – an unprecedented level of self-promotion with your money
- $2 billion for the ironically-named Climate Solutions Fund. This poorly-administered handout for the favoured few is of dubious worth to begin with. It runs for 10 years, so I originally counted only one year’s worth – but in the spirit of rorting, what the hell, throw the lot in
- $4 billion Urban Congestion Fund incorporating the $500 million Commuter Car Park Fund that followed the usual pattern of being mainly poured into coalition marginal seats
- $300 million Drought Communities Program – another one where the government ignores its own criteria and hands out money without regard for eligibility
- $220 million Regional Jobs and Investment Package – ministers rejecting 28 per cent of the recommended applications and approving 17 per cent without recommendation
- $22.65 million for the Stronger Communities Program, and
- $22.65 million for the Communities Environment Program.
These last two don’t discriminate.
MPs of all stripes get to play with taxpayers funds here – $150,000 for each program in each of our 151 electorates.
Your local MP has to invite or endorse applications – the sort of structural corruption you would perhaps expect in the wilder parts of the Papua New Guinea political system.
The $8000 for a sailing club barbecue in Scott Morrison’s electorate is as good an example as any of federal politicians local big-noting with taxpayers funds.
It’s tacky, it stinks. It’s not what a federal government should be doing.
Bridget McKenzie’s role in handing out the sports grants will be examined by a Senate committee. Photo: AAP
This invites a bigger question about these political acts of noblesse oblige – politicians are too busy trying to buy elections to consider what principles might be involved in making free with other people’s money.
For example, Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack was delighted to open the new Sunshine Beach Surf Club in the electorate of Barnaby Joyce’s little mate, Llew O’Brien.
With the help of $2.5 million from the taxpayer, the club has built a flash bar, restaurant and event centre on its brilliant site overlooking the Sunshine surf.
Oh yes, there are better facilities for the life savers, cadets and nippers as well.
The previous bar and restaurant were more modest, very much Sunshine rather than neighbouring Noosa, yet still a fine spot.
I wonder how other bars, restaurants and events centres in the area feel about having to compete with such generously government-funded opposition?
That should be particularly galling for the Coalition’s IPA “small government” faction.
The best thing the Adventures of Bridget McKenzie could achieve is a re-think of federal government’s responsibilities.
The “they all do it” excuse isn’t good enough any more.
There are things that urgently need federal money – an increased Newstart allowance, social housing – that should take precedence over pork barrelling.