The Independent Commission Against Corruption’s (ICAC) report into former NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian was released a few days ago and it found that she engaged in “serious corrupt conduct by breaching public trust” in throwing millions of dollars of pork at the electorate of her then squeeze, disgraced ex-MP Daryl Maguire, without disclosing her relationship with him. The report found she awarded the grants because of a “desire on her part to maintain or advance” their relationship. Despite the damning findings, Berejiklian maintained that she had always “worked my hardest in the public interest” and that “nothing in this report demonstrates otherwise”1. You have to laugh.
The grants awarded were of $5.5 million grant to a gun club, and a $10 million grant to a conservatorium of music, both in Wagga Wagga1. While they may have been worthy recipients of grants, the fact that they were made at the behest of Dodgy Daryl immediately casts suspicion on whether they were in fact worthy.
The fact that politicians are able to indulge in such rampant pork barrelling has been a major concern for a long time, ever since the ‘whiteboard’ saga ended the career of federal Labor member Ros Kelly’s political career in the mid 1990s2.
Of course, the Kelly affair paled beside the industrial scale pork barrelling of the ‘sports rorts’ driven by Bridget McKenzie for the Morrison government, which was based on a colour-coded spreadsheet and included 6 grants for which there were no applications, while 11 others were approved for funding after the government entered the caretaker period. Even more grants did not meet he necessary score to be recommended for funding by Sport Australia. The auditor general’s report on this affair found that McKenzie had skewed the program towards target and marginal electorates3. What a surprise! And yet McKenzie is still in parliament. This shows you how low the standards of political behaviour have sunk since the mid 1990s.
It is clear that politicians cannot be trusted to do the right thing when handing out grants, because they will either pretend a conflict of interest doesn’t exists, as Berejiklian did, or they will target grants to electorates where they think it will benefit them at the next election. This misuse of public funds should be illegal. The only way to stop it happening is to remove politicians from the immediate granting process. Politicians should simply provide the cash and a framework within which the relevant granting bodies, such as Sport Australia, and then leave the granting process to that relevant body. That way, dodgy politicians can no longer skew the grants to suit themselves or their latest squeeze. They won’t like it, as it takes a vote buying mechanism away from them. However, it has to happen.