Icac chief tells pork-barreling forum that NSW fund is on ‘other side of the line’ | New South Wales politics

The head of the New South Wales anti-corruption watchdog has cited the Berejiklian government’s notorious $252m Stronger Communities fund as a clear example of pork-barrelling, saying almost its sole motive was political, calling it “clearly on the other side of the line”.

Peter Hall QC, the chief commissioner of the state’s Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC), told a forum examining the legality of pork-barrelling in politics that the fund was “on the other side of the line” of what was “permissible”.

In February, the NSW auditor general released a scathing report into the fund that found it “lacked integrity” and did not use consistent guidelines to award more than 95% of the money to local councils in Coalition state seats.

The report found former premier Gladys Berejiklian and deputy premier John Barilaro had personally chosen projects to fund with “little or no information about the basis” for their selections. In a 2018 briefing note, it revealed that Berejiklian’s staff wrote that they were working to “get the cash out the door in the most politically advantageous way”.

Hall said there were often “mixed motives” in cases where there had been a suggestion of pork-barrelling and that it was “quite permissible” for politicians to make funding decisions that they hoped would have a political advantage if it was also in the public interest.

“But if you get a decision, let’s take the Stronger Communities grants fund case; I mean, there’s no argument; there is, as the auditor general’s report discovered in that case, a document, which is a briefing note to the premier’s office and that briefing note was to the effect ‘we’ve got the money out the door, and it’s hitting the political target’,” Hall said on Friday.

“I mean, you couldn’t have it any clearer than that as to what the motive was. So that was, you’d almost say the sole reason [or] the sole purpose of that exercise was political or electoral, and that’s clearly on the other side of the line.

“I think one has to acknowledge the political reality that it’s not altogether quite simple because there’s often more than one motive for a person’s actions.”

Friday’s forum was organized by the ICAC on the back of a report commissioned by constitutional law expert Anne Twomey, which called for the practice of pork-barrelling to be banned.

New South Wales

The ICAC plans to publish its report on pork-barrelling, “including whether and how it relates to corrupt conduct”, on the back of the forum. It follows a series of scathing auditor general reports on grant funding decisions made by the NSW government.

A review of the government’s grant spending, released last month by the Department of Premier and Cabinet, recommended administrators document when ministers and politicians try to influence the grants process.

But it concluded that pork-barrelling should not become a criminal offense, something Twomey argued did not go far enough because it “avoids consequences for ministers if they breach those rules or encourage others to do so”.

She has called for a mechanism to enforce religious obligations when making grant funding decisions. On Friday, Twomey told the forum that existing spiritual codes of conduct were “useless”.

“Let be clear – they are deliberately written to allow as much misbehavior as you can get away with,” she said.

Twomey, from the University of Sydney, told the forum “something I probably should not admit publicly” about previously being tasked with drafting a code of conduct while working in the legal branch of the NSW public service.

“We formed a beautiful one based on best practice, and it went to the cabinet, and I got called up to the cabinet door, and they said, ‘nop,e we’re not doing any of that’,” she said.

She said a different code of conduct was “dictated to me from the cabinet room”.

“They didn’t want proper rules and restrictions on their powers in the code of conduct at all,” she said.

Bella E. McMahon
I am a freelance writer who started blogging in college. I am fascinated by human nature, politics, culture, technology, and pop culture. In addition to my writing, I enjoy exploring new places, trying out new things, and engaging in conversations with new people. Some of my favorite hobbies are reading, playing music, making crafts, writing, traveling, and spending time with my family.