NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro has lost any shred of credibility he had left by defending the alleged rorting of joint NSW-Australian Government bushfire relief funding to shore up Coalition-held electorates, according to Lismore MP Janelle Saffin.
Ms Saffin said the NSW Nationals Leader had lost the plot after fronting a Parliamentary inquiry earlier this week into his Government’s alleged pork barrelling of grant programs and proudly describing the practice as an ‘investment’ in the regions.
An investigation by Michael West Media found that 99 per cent of a $177-million stream of Local Economic Recovery (LER) funding for 71 projects last November flooded in to Coalition-held seats in New South Wales. NSW Labor seats picked up just 1 per cent.
This LER funding was never advertised with the NSW Government identifying ‘known priority community and industry recovery projects’ and the Australian Government agreeing to them, following ‘local and industry consultation’.
Ms Saffin said this was a peculiar way to administer taxpayers’ money and resulted in some very lopsided outcomes – two timber companies received a total of $2 million in the Lismore Electorate (Kyogle) while seven projects in neighbouring Clarence shared in $36.842 million.
“While I don’t begrudge any grant recipient in the Richmond or Clarence valleys, the mega bushfires of 2019 also had major impacts across Tenterfield Shire, Kyogle and Lismore City LGAs and the Tweed Shire hinterland, but we were left on the sidelines,” Ms Saffin said.
“I found out about the Local Economic Recovery largesse in the media. I was not consulted because it was a secretive process. But if Bara had picked up the phone and called me, I could have given him a long list of worthy projects which would have directly benefited bushfire-affected communities.
“Country people expect that responsible governments will promote, manage and acquit multi-million funding programs with probity and transparency to ensure a level playing field for all potential applicants because funding is hard to get.
“Mr Barilaro has kept tight control over regional funding programs, shutting out Opposition MPs like myself from even announcing successful projects in our electorates. I can live with that but he should not penalise local people by playing base politics.”
Wednesday, 10 February 2021.