Bushfire relief rorted by NSW government?

February 4, 2021
WestConnex is another of the NSW government's rorts. Photo: Peter Boyle

A parliamentary inquiry into the New South Wales government’s council grants scandal will be expanded to scrutinise new allegations of pork barrelling related to millions of dollars of state and federal bushfire relief funding.

The great bulk of the $177 million bushfire relief fund was allocated to Coalition-held electorates.

The Legislative Council inquiry is now calling for new submissions to examine the allocation of grants. Analysis by inquiry chair Greens MP David Shoebridge found that just $2.5 million of the first round of funding went to the Labor-held seats of Cessnock and Lismore. 

No funding was allocated to seats held by the Greens, or the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party (SFF) despite some being badly affected by the 1919-20 Black Summer bushfires.

Almost one-third of the funds were directed to the state electorate of Wagga Wagga, which sits within the federal seat of National Party leader Michael McCormack.

Elizabeth Minter pointed out in the January 26 Michael West News, that the federal Labor electorate of Macquarie, which was devastated by the bushfires, and comprises the state electorate of the Blue Mountains, held by Labor MP Trish Doyle, received nothing. By contrast, the state electorate of Hawkesbury, held Liberal MP Robyn Preston, received grants totalling $4 million.

“At least 80% of the Blue Mountains world heritage area and more than 50% of its Gondwana world heritage rainforests were burned,” Minter said. “An estimated 2600 jobs and $560 million in turnover was lost. And, according to the National Bushfire Recovery Agency, the Blue Mountains' economic loss was twice that of Hawkesbury’s — some $66 million compared to $33 million.”

Another $250 million is due to be handed out. Shoebridge said on January 30 that this blatant pork-barrelling “is even more offensive when it’s using money set aside for bushfire recovery”.

“There are still people across the state living in tents and caravans and local businesses struggling to stay open after the fires, and we have Coalition ministers doling out money based on politics rather than local need.”

Shoebridge is proposing that the sports grants inquiry be extended to cover the bushfire grants and to especially keep a close watch on how the next $250 million is dispensed.

“I will also be moving that the upper house order the production of all the relevant documents when Parliament returns and, provided they haven’t been shredded, these will hopefully give us some answers,” Shoebridge said.

Berejiklian said in November said pork barrelling wasn’t illegal. “Governments in all positions make commitments to the community in order to curry favour,” she said.

How blatant can you be?

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