In a recent forum on pork-barrelling held by the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption, Law Expert Professor Anne Twomey slammed the practice of pork-barrelling by Australian governments.
“I have been infuriated by ministers at both the state and the federal level asserting that they have an unfettered ministerial power and that there’s nothing illegal or corrupt about pork-barrelling. In my view both propositions are wrong”.
Twomey singled out two funds doled out by the NSW government as particularly “appalling” examples of pork-barrelling, the Stronger Communities Fund and the Regional Cultural Fund. 95% of the Berejiklian and Barilaro controlled Stronger Communities Fund went to either marginal or Coalition held seats and only $3 million of the $44 million Regional Cultural Fund was spent in non-Coalition electorates.
“It was appalling on two levels, one it was an indictment on the integrity of governmental behaviour but secondly and I say this as a former public servant, it was appalling just in terms of terrible public administration”
ICAC Chief Commissioner Peter Hall QC echoed similar sentiments, stating that the Stronger Communities Fund was “on the other side of the line” as Berejiklian’s staff shockingly admitted in a briefing note that they were working to “get the cash out the door in the most politically advantageous way”.
This forum comes before the ICAC is set to issue their own report on pork-barrelling, which will “outline their views” on the practice and whether it amounts to corrupt conduct. If ICAC does indeed find that Pork Barrelling is corrupt conduct, it will be yet another strong condemnation of the practice by legal experts. Former counsel assisting ICAC Geoffrey Watson SC has made his view clear “It’s actually a misuse of public money and in some circumstances it can be corrupt conduct”. Professor A. J. Brown, who also appeared at the forum characterised the practice as a “hair’s breadth away from direct electoral bribery – literally vote-buying”.
Although a recent review of government grants recommended against making pork-barrelling a criminal offence, Professor Anne Twomey argued that in some cases it could already be viewed as such under Common Law. “In short pork-barreling may satisfy conditions of corrupt conduct under the ICAC act, where there is partial behaviour that occurs for an improper purpose and in very serious cases it might even constitute a criminal offence of misconduct in public office.”