Pork-barrelling drought funding: A new low for the Morrison Government

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The Morrison Government is promising funds for drought relief, but a closer look reveals a severe case of economic mismanagement, writes Belinda Jones.

AUSTRALIANS HAVE ALWAYS had a very proud history of rising to the challenge during adversity, of digging deep and helping our mates – particularly our farmers – when times get tough. 

In our wide, beautiful, sunburnt country of sweeping plains and flooding rains, the conditions are often very tough. Tough conditions bring out the very best in people and, on occasion, they also bring out the very worst in people. This is such a case. The Morrison Government appears to be playing politics at the worst possible time, at the expense of drought-ravaged communities, by pork-barrelling drought funding.

Let that sink in. 

Scott Morrison and a variety of Ministers are currently touring drought-ravaged areas to spruik the Government’s $7 billion drought package. These visits promise the world but deliver very little. In fact, the vast majority of the $7 billion drought package remains unspent and will continue to remain unspent — locked in a “Future Drought Fund”. The Prime Minister says that the Future Drought Fund would ensure “money aside for non-rainy days in the future”. The Prime Minister thinks the non-rainy days of the present are deserving of photo opportunities but undeserving of his funded empathy.

In Dalby, last week, for another deliberate drought photo opportunity, Scott Morrison announced details about his Government’s drought package, including further funding for 13 councils in drought-ravaged areas, receiving $1 million.

One council, Moyne Council, in Victoria was shocked to hear it was one of the 13 newly announced recipients of $1 million. It was so shocking because they’re not in drought.

The Prime Minister’s announcement set-off an embarrassing chain of events, which culminated in a very red-faced Water Minister, David Littleproud, ordering an “audit” into what went wrong. At first, Minister Littleproud apportioned blame to the Bureau of Meteorology, though other reports suggested the Government had admitted that the Department had used the “wrong” data to determine which councils were in drought areas and deserving of such largesse.

On closer inspection of the Government’s Drought Communities Programme Extension, it becomes glaringly obvious that these $1 million handouts to councils appear to follow a political pattern far more than any precipitation patterns. 

This appears to be a clear-cut case of blatant political pork-barrelling.

Most Australians understand the usual argy-bargy that goes on in politics, especially when there’s an election due and often incumbent governments will generously fund projects in seats where they really want their candidate to succeed. Australians are used to that.

It is, however, highly unusual and distasteful for a government to pork-barrel drought assistance funding, as appears to be the case in relation to the Drought Communities Programme Extension.

This programme has given out $1 million each to 123 councils in total across Australia, yet an entire state and two territories have missed out, so have entire tracts of drought-ravaged areas that are in Labor-held seats while generous handouts have gone to other areas that don’t appear to be in drought-affected areas, like the seat of Wannon.

(Source: www.regional.gov.au)

The Coalition does hold many rural and regional seats, but not all. Nor do Coalition seats hold the monopoly on drought-ravaged areas; far from it. Australian Electoral Commission maps show that some of the most drought-affected areas are in Labor-held seats, for example, Lingiari, Hunter, Eden-Monaro, Ballarat, Bendigo and Richmond.

(Source: www.aec.gov.au)
(Source: www.aec.gov.au)

To break it down in simple terms, of the 123 councils that have received Drought Communities Programme funding:

  • four Labor seats received $5 million for five councils;
  • three Independent seats received $6 million for six councils; and
  • 15 Coalition seats received $112 million for 112 councils.

Not one council in Western Australia, the Australian Capital Territory or the Northern Territory has received any funding under this scheme. Yet South Australian councils in the seats of Grey, Barker and Mayo shared $30 million in the Drought Communities Programme funding.

No Victorian council in a Labor seat has received any funding as part of this program even though councils in adjacent seats have, including Moyne Council which is not in a drought-affected area.

A shocked Moyne Councillor in the Education Minister Dan Tehan’s seat of Wannon said:

“It's more than an embarrassment, it's bad management.”

At a Council meeting on Wednesday night, the Moyne Council voted not to accept the $1 million.

“Councillors unanimously voted afterwards to not apply for the money, stating Moyne Shire was not in drought and ‘morally’ could not take the money.”

(Sources: bom.gov.au and aec.gov.au)
Interestingly, WA, NT, A.C.T. and Victoria all have state/territory Labor governments.

Of the $123 million drought assistance to councils Australia-wide, $57 million of that has gone to a Government Minister’s electorate.

  • Councils in Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack’s electorate of Riverina have received $7 million.
  • Councils in Environment Minister Sussan Ley’s electorate of Farrer have received $11 million.
  • Councils in Water Resources and Drought Minister David Littleproud’s electorate of Maranoa have received $16 million.
  • Councils in Education Minister Dan Tehan’s electorate of Wannon have received $2 million.
  • Councils in Minister for Regional Services Mark Coulton’s electorate of Parkes have received $18 million.
  • Councils in Minister for Veterans and Defence Personnel Darren Chester’s electorate of Gippsland have received $3 million.

These funding anomalies beg the question that if the $123 million in council funding can be so badly mismanaged by this Government, then what is really happening with the total $7 billion in “drought support funding” being spruiked by the Prime Minister?

On Tuesday, Member for Hunter Joel Fitzgibbon announced he had written to the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) asking the Auditor-General to investigate the Morrison Government’s drought response:

‘Farmers and rural communities are tiring of Prime Ministerial drought tours, empty talk about dams, exaggerated funding announcements and now, what appears to be political favouritism and pork barrelling.’

This new low from the Morrison Government that promises a lot but delivers very little will go down in history as the most disgusting incidence of pork-barrelling this country has ever seen.

A full breakdown of councils receiving $1 million, their Federal electorate, MP and political party can be found here.

You can follow Belinda Jones on Twitter @belindajones68.

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