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Pork-barrelling, another way to say corruption

“The Australian National Audit Office has exposed major issues with the $660 million of taxpayers’ money that was part of a pre-election campaign planned and executed by Liberal government ministers,” writes political columnist MICHAEL MOORE. 

Michael Moore.

“PORK-barrelling” is a euphemism for corruption and undermines our democracy, poor governance and shady behaviour. 

Governments are taking some action, but there are more things to be done to reduce corruption.

The “park-and-ride” scheme currently under close examination as “pork-barrelling” should be seen for what it is – corruption. It might be the case that no money is going to personally enhance the coffers of decision makers who made the announcements during the last election. However, there was a clear advantage for the government and the Liberal Party in aiming the largesse at marginal seats.

Using taxpayers’ money to bring about advantage to a sitting MP, potential MPs and a political party is immoral and unacceptable. The Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) has exposed major issues with the $660 million of taxpayers’ money that was part of a pre-election campaign planned and executed by Liberal government ministers. 

“Not demonstrably merit-based” was the description of the ANAO and concluded with: “Not designed to be open or transparent”. The shadow minister for cities in the Federal parliament was correct in stating: “It shows an absolute contempt for due process, an absolute contempt for the public, and a real contempt for taxpayers’ money.”

The minister at the time was Alan Tudge – who now has responsibility for education. The current minister, Paul Fletcher, argues that he has ordered a review into the allocation of the funds and that the department is responding positively to all of the recommendations of the ANAO report. It is a step in the right direction, but will hardly put an end to this sort of scam.

What is needed to stop corruption? How can it be nipped in the bud? What tools are available to address any form of corruption? There are some current approaches that have an impact. But complex problems required multi-layered solutions. Some, such as the ANAO and parliamentary inquiries are already in place. 

In the short term, there ought to be a Royal Commission into this particular issue. Governments do not like calling Royal Commissions over which they have no control. A Royal Commission also implies some admission of guilt. A serious consideration for such a Royal Commission would be whether or not there was any financial advantage to individuals through links to the Liberal Party.

An Independent Commission Against Corruption is one of the key elements in any solution. Such bodies, where they have been established with appropriate teeth, have made a considerable difference. The Federal parliament has declined again and again to establish such a body. In March, in this column, I pointed to the need for such a body regarding political donations.

Another consideration regarding “pork-barrelling” is the impact of single-member electorates. The largesse handed out in such a targeted way in the park-and-ride scandal was to assist Liberal Party candidates to win specific seats. A more transparent process would have been to identify real need and go through a non-political process to address the greatest need first.

Proportional representation, as it applies in the ACT and Tasmania, delivers five or more members in one electorate. Munificence in such circumstances may be helpful to the electorate as a whole, but does not have the same impact in supporting a particular candidate to be elected. As such, it is harder for a political party to put pressure on the government to provide “pork-barrel” assistance to candidates. 

Adoption of proportional representation for lower-house elections is hardly likely to happen in the future. However, if it assists in solving this issue, it is worth putting on the table. No doubt, there are also many more ways to ensure transparency and good governance as a means of countering corruption.

No system is perfect in wrestling with greed and human nature. However, the more checks and balances in place, the more likely it is that corruption will be minimised.

Michael Moore is a former member of the ACT Legislative Assembly and an independent minister for health. He has been a political columnist with “CityNews” since 2006.

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Michael Moore

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