NationalNews

Ethics and legality of pork barrelling questioned at ICAC forum

The head of the NSW anti-corruption watchdog has declared he wants to see political "pork barrelling" outlawed, after a public forum heard the practice occurs at an "industrial scale".

The Independent Commission Against Corruption on Friday held up a $250 million Berejiklian government grants scheme as a blatant example of politicians using taxpayer money to buy votes.

Tens of millions of dollars went out the door under the Stronger Communities Fund, in a pre-election cash splash, 96 per cent of which landed in Coalition-held seats.

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The head of the NSW anti-corruption watchdog has declared he wants to see political "pork barrelling" outlawed, after a public forum heard the practice occurs at an "industrial scale".

While the hearing was not aimed at investigating specific programs, or the conduct of individuals, ICAC Chief Commissioner Peter Hall singled out the council grants fund, which has already been examined by the Auditor-General.

"The sole motive, sole purpose of that exercise was political or electoral," he told the hearing.

When questioned about the scheme in November 2020, then premier Gladys Berejiklian once infamously declared pork barrelling "is not illegal".

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Outside Parliament, when asked if he wanted to see pork barrelling outlawed, Peter Hall declared it was "the way to go".

Hall said there had been "a lot of… misinformation being put out there, as to whether it's ok, normal, or not".

Outside Parliament, when asked if he wanted to see pork barrelling outlawed, Peter Hall declared it was "the way to go".

But he wouldn't be drawn on whether any new laws could be applied retrospectively.

Griffith University Professor AJ Brown told the hearing "pork barrelling can be electoral bribery".

"What's been exposed … is pork barrelling, and I'm quite happy to accept the pejorative definition of that, on an industrial scale."

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Constitutional law Professor Anne Twomey told the hearing it was "appalling on two levels".

"One, it was an indictment on the integrity of governmental behaviour, but secondly – I say this as a former public servant – it was appalling, just in terms of terrible public administration," she said.

"Politicians should be a bit more worried than they used to be."

A Labor bill aimed at tightening controls over the administration of grants has already passed the upper house of state Parliament, and will be debated in the lower house next week.

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