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New politics: preventing pork-barrelling 10.26 MB

Pork-barrelling – using public money to target certain voters for political gain – is wasteful and undermines trust in governments. But this report shows that pork-barrelling is common in Australia.

In many federal and state government grant programs, significantly more money is allocated to government-held seats. Under the previous federal government, more than twice as much in discretionary grant funding was allocated to government seats, on average, compared to opposition ones. For some state government grant programs it was more than three times as much.

Political leaders themselves increasingly acknowledge the politicisation of grant programs. Some have publicly rationalised the misuse of funds on the basis that everyone does it.

Pork-barrelling prioritises political interest over the public interest. Poor-quality projects go ahead at the expense of higher-value ones. And the perceived political advantage means ever more grants are rolled out at the expense of more important spending.

Key recommendations:

  • All grants should be allocated through an open, competitive, merit-based assessment process. Expected outcomes and selection criteria should be published, and selection processes documented.
  • Any exception to the new process should be reported to the finance minister, who in turn should report to parliament at least quarterly. It should also be published by the relevant department alongside the outcome of the grant round.
  • A multi-party standing parliamentary committee should oversee compliance with grant rules.
  • Federal and state finance departments should publish annual reports covering all grant programs, including compliance with the process outlined here.
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Grattan Institute Report No. 2022-10