A New South Wales government review of grant funding recommended a range of changes, but did not say pork barrel should be an offence.
- Review of Grants Administration in NSW report makes 19 recommendations
- It was commissioned last year after pork barrel allegations
- The prime minister welcomed the report, saying all grants are ultimately publicly funded
The review was commissioned in November last year as the government pushed back against allegations over its grant scheme, following Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) hearings involving former Prime Minister Gladys Berejiklian.
Completed in April, the final report, along with 19 recommendations on how to improve transparency, accountability and probity, was released by the state government this morning.
“Grants are an important part of how the government supports communities and individuals,” Premier Dominic Perrottet said.
“All grants are ultimately publicly funded, so it’s critical that we also ensure they are administered fairly, efficiently and transparently.”
Prepared by the Prime Minister and Cabinet Office and the Productivity Commissioner, the review is forward-looking – suggesting policy changes rather than analyzing past decisions.
In a section titled “Responsible decision-making is necessary to manage the risk of pork casking,” the report argues against creating an offense prohibiting pork casking due to “existing legally enforceable measures.” .
He also says updating the ICAC definition to include hog-barrelling is not “appropriate” because the Watchdog Act already includes a “broad definition of what constitutes ‘corrupt conduct’.” “.
Instead, the report recommends managing risk through “responsible decision making” and better record keeping.
“Strong decision-making frameworks will help ensure accountability and transparency in grant administration,” he says.
“This includes identifying and documenting who makes funding decisions and on what basis.
“This is particularly relevant in the context of concerns raised by stakeholders about the perception of a hog barrel in grant administration.”
The recommendations are being reviewed by the government with a response expected in the coming weeks.
However, Labor leader Chris Minns said the review “confirms that the grant process in NSW is broken”.
“There is not enough oversight and control of taxpayer funds being spent by this Liberal, national government,” Minns said.
Labor is proposing legislation that would give additional powers to the Auditor General to investigate grant funding.
Other recommendations include a new grant administration guide, based on Commonwealth standards for integrity, trust, service and accountability.
The same goes for mandatory compliance calls for public servants, ministers and staff.
Increased transparency, through the use of published guidelines and selection criteria, was also needed, according to the report.
He also suggested the creation of a publicly accessible database listing upcoming grant opportunities, grants awarded, and a record of ministerial decisions and the reasons for the decision.
The report offered recommendations on the use of closed, non-competitive grants, which come with a high level of ministerial discretion to distribute funds.
He said: “Non-competitive processes should remain an option but, given the substantial benefits of competitive grants, managers should always ask themselves, ‘If it’s not competitive, why not? “”
While ministers and MPs can make grant funding suggestions to their constituents, the review says these contributions should be recorded “at all stages of the process”, as well as how these contributions are taken into account when of the evaluation phase.
He cited a review by the NSW Audit Office which found some MPs were identifying projects for funding before program guidelines were approved.
The NSW government typically spends around $4 billion a year on grants, but this has risen to $10 billion due to temporary COVID-19 and natural disaster support schemes.