How to throw political pork-barrelling on the scrap heap

Pork-barrelling has been around since bread and circuses in ancient Rome but over the last couple of years the practice has come under unusual scrutiny both at a federal and state level.

The practice of doing out small local grants at the prerogative of the minister with little logic other than winning votes has been the subject of inquiries at both state and federal level.

The Australian National Auditor’s Office criticized the politicised and shambolic administration by the Morrison government of $100 million in sports grants and $121 million in grants for car parks.

In NSW, which hands out more than $4 billion in grants a year, the Independent Commission Against Corruption investigated whether Gladys Berejiklian breached the public trust or encouraged the occurrence of corrupt conduct during her secret relationship with disgraced former MP Daryl Maguire.

Yet while the issue has attracted a lot of comment, there is a fundamental disagreement about whether pork-barrelling is really such a problem.

Critics say that politicians who use taxpayer funds to win re-election are acting corruptly. Yet some politicians have said that, while these small grants are not always the best use of public money, it is a normal part of democracy to help and reward constituents and supporters.

The ICAC is sufficiently confused that on Friday it will hold a seminar on when pork-barrelling is illegal, corrupt or unethical and whether there should be more limits on ministers’ ability to ignore the advice of public servants in allocating pork.

It will look at whether legislation is needed to “ensure public monies are only expended for public purposes” and what safeguards are needed to prevent breaches of public trust.

the herald argues that more rules are needed and calls for reform to implement all the recommendations of a report last month on the issue by NSW Productivity Commissioner Peter Achterstraat and the head of Department of Premier and Cabinet Michael Coutts-Trotter.

The report said no new criminal offenses are needed to fight pork-barrelling but issued 19 recommendations to make sure that all grant applicants have a “fair go.”

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