Major Red Flags: Reforms Needed to Stop Politician Pork-Barrelling

Major red flags in Australian grants administration must be addressed to prevent pork barrelling, according to a submission by the Australia Institute to the parliamentary inquiry into Commonwealth grants administration.

Key Findings:

  • 11 different pork-barrelling red flags were highlighted, the most significant include:
    • funds not allocated in line with grant objectives,
    • lack of personal consequences for Ministers who engage in politically biased allocation of money,
    • misuse of cabinet confidentiality to cloak the assessment process, and
    • some grants potentially not being constitutionally valid.
  • These red flags point to four key categories of problems in grants administration: unfair and ineffective distribution of grant funding; poor processes; lack of transparency; and lack of effective deterrence and remedies.
  • Recommendations put forward by the Australia Institute to remedy these problems include:
    • Commonwealth rules to clearly identify that pork barrelling may constitute corrupt conduct;
    • all Commonwealth grants to be awarded on the basis of an open, transparent, merits-based process;
    • deliberations and documentation concerning grant expenditure to be subject to public scrutiny; and
    • a strong national integrity commission to be established without delay.
  • Australia Institute research has previously revealed that during the past Coalition Government 71% of grants with ministerial discretion were allocated to projects in Coalition seats.
    • In per capita terms, marginal Coalition seats received $184 per person in national grants, while safe Labor seats received just $39 per person.

“Too often, ministers have used cabinet confidentiality and poor records to hide their politicised decision-making on grants. Better reporting and more transparency on grants processes is needed to make politicians responsible for how they spend public money,” said Bill Browne, Democracy & Accountability Program Director at the Australia Institute.

“Our research supports concerns that grant funding has been distributed in a partisan manner, with a focus on winnable seats rather than community need or project merit.

“Pork barrelling has occurred in spite of relevant legislation, guidelines and codes of conduct, so stronger protections against it are needed.”

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