Labor has taken aim at the Coalition’s “pork-barrelling” and will introduce an “anti-rorting” Bill into the Senate in a bid to stamp it out.
The Bill aims to improve transparency and accountability of ministerial decisions within grant programs by making it mandatory for ministers to report on grants that could potentially be classified as pork-barrelling.
“There has been sports rorts, regional rorts, safer seats rorts and, most recently and perhaps most egregiously, the pork-and-ride commuter carpark rorts that have seen billions of dollars in grant funding pork-barrelled across the country,” Labor senator Katy Gallagher said.
“Scott Morrison is addicted to rorting.”
A scathing review from the Australian National Audit Office in June lashed the federal government‘s $660m Commuter Car Park program, revealing 77 per cent of the carpark sites were in Coalition-held electorates.
The audit said the funding selection process was “not appropriate” and ”not designed to be transparent”, finding then-urban infrastructure minister Alan Tudge kept a ”top 20 marginals” sheet for awarding projects to help the Coalition keep or win electorate seats for the 2019 election.
But speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Senator Tudge denied any wrongdoing.
When asked why a list of top 20 marginals would be necessary, Senator Tudge said he was unaware of the existence of such a list.
“I‘m not aware of that,” he told reporters.
“The commuter carpark sites were chosen on the basis of need.”
Under the Bill, ministers who approve grants rejected by their departments or who award grants in their own electorates must report the decision to the finance minister within 30 days and table those reports in Parliament within five sitting days.
“This will dramatically reduce the time ministers are able to hide their dodgy decisions from the Australian community from up to 16 months down to just a couple of months,” Senator Gallagher said.
But those calling for greater integrity and transparency across both major parties say the Bill wouldn’t do enough to tackle the “systemic pork-barrelling” that is widespread across Australian politics.
Independent MP Helen Haines commended the Labor Party for taking a step towards greater accountability, but said the Bill “still misses the point”.
Senator Haines said pork-barrelling had been a longtime and systemic issue “irrespective of who is in government”, insisting the Bill’s scope was ”not wide enough” to actually address the issue.
Pork barrelling was also widespread under the 2007-2013 Labor government, which was slammed by the National Audit Office in 2014 when it found 80 per cent of ministerial decisions to decline funding to recommended applications were in Coalition-held electorates.
While the proposed Bill will require ministers to disclose quickly when they send money to their own electorates, it does not require they disclose when money is sent to marginal seats that are not their own.
This means that under the proposed Bill, indiscretions such as the “top 20 marginals” sheet in the carpark rorts scandal will not be subject to the 30-day disclosure rule.
“The Bill doesn‘t go anywhere near what we really need,” said Senator Haines, who insisted that only a federal integrity commission could properly address the issue.
“For every dollar that gets spent, buying a vote, that‘s $1 that’s not going to a real need,” she said.
“An integrity commission is really the only thing that is going to bring about consequences for the misuse of public money.”