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BUSTING THE PORK BARREL: REX PATRICK TO IMPROVE TRANSPARENCY AND REDUCE POLITICAL INCENTIVES FOR RORTING GRANTS PROGRAMS

12 May 2022

Independent Senator Rex Patrick today announced his plan to introduce new legislation to stop governments from using taxpayers’ money for political pork barrelling and other rorts. An independent Senator’s Bill planned by Senator Patrick will provide much greater transparency and accountability in relation to the award of government grants and for the disclosure of Budget decisions that have not been announced prior to the election period, thereby inhibiting government from dishing out funds from an election pork barrel during the political campaign. 

“Scott Morrison will likely go down in Australian history as the pork barrel Prime Minister because no one has previously mastered that dark political art to the extent that he has,” Senator Patrick said.  

The scale of pork barelling in this election is astounding with billions of dollars sprayed at marginal and strongly contested electorates. Ironically, however, the Prime Minister’s shameless pumping of taxpayers’ dollars into marginal electorates on the basis of political rather than community need has fuelled a tremendous demand greater transparency and accountability in government decision making.”

“Pork barrelling is now widely recognised for what it is; political corruption in which public resources, whether through grants or contracts, are allocated for the private political benefit of the governing political party rather than the public good and national interest.”

“It will be up to the next Parliament to enact measures that crack down on what are clearly unacceptable practices involving the abuse and rorting of proper government processes. This is an imperative regardless of whoever wins Government at the election and whoever is the next Prime Minister. The temptation to use public funds for partisan political purposes is something that must be addressed regardless of whether it’s the Coalition or Labor on the Treasury Benches.”

“Accordingly, if re-elected as a Senator for South Australia, I plan to introduce legislation into the Senate that will impede and diminish the political incentives for rorting of grants and other government programs that deliver benefits to politically selected electorates or groups.” 

“This new legislation will adopt and strengthen transparency measures proposed in the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Amendment (Improved Grants Reporting) Bill 2021 that was considered but not passed by the Senate late last year. That Bill, introduced by Labor, would have amended the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013 to require ministers who approve grants rejected by their departments or who award grants in their own electorates to report the decision to the Finance Minister within 30 days and further require those reports to be tabled in the Parliament within five sitting days.”  

“The Labor Opposition argued that such legislation would significantly inhibit the ability of ministers to hide dodgy decisions from the Australian public. This would be a valuable transparency measure; but it remains to be seen whether Labor will be quite so keen on this measure in the event that they form government after the election.” 

“In any case, if re-elected, I will introduce into the Senate in the first sitting week legislation with wider reporting requirements and provision for automatic referral of matters to the Auditor-General for investigation and report. Labor’s previous Bill was a good start, but needs to be strengthened with the direct involvement of an independent statutory officer in the form of the Auditor-General. Ministers would still be free to make decisions, but they would be required to accept both a higher level of transparency and automatic independent scrutiny by the Auditor-General.”

“In addition, my planned legislation will also seek to amend the Auditor-General Act 1997 to require the Auditor-General to maintain a register of all Budget expenditure decisions made but not announced at the time of the Budget. The Auditor-General will be required to update that register as the Government makes further announcements of expenditure decisions after the Budget.” 

“Once the election writs have been issued and the election caretaker period has begun, the Auditor-General shall be required within three working days to publish a full list of all Budget decisions and commitments that have not previously been announced.”

“The prompt announcement of all outstanding decisions by an independent statutory officer will greatly diminish any perceived political benefit for the Government and prevent the Government from timing announcements to suit their political campaign."

“The only exceptions to this election disclosure regime would be Budget decisions that if revealed prematurely would adversely impact national security, national economic interests, or the financial position of the Government. Such exemptions would need to be certified by the Auditor-General on advice from the Secretary of the relevant government department or agency. In such cases any announcement will be banned for the duration of the election campaign.”  

"Prime Ministers should not travel around the country with a barrel of pork, dishing out expenditure at every campaign whistle stop. These proposed legislative measures would effectively bust open the pork barrel at the start of the campaign."  

“These measures will bring much needed transparency to government expenditure decisions and diminish the political incentive for pork barrelling.” 

“This is another part of a wider campaign to fix Australia’s broken and increasingly corrupted politics; especially through the establishment of a Federal anti-corruption commission, parliamentary reform and greater transparency measures relating to political donations.”

“Comprehensive integrity and transparency measures must be an absolute priority for the next Parliament. I plan to press hard on all fronts as soon as the Senate convenes after the election.”