NSW Labor have obtained documents that reveal the NSW Liberals and NSW Nationals used around $400 million in grants as a slush fund to buy votes.
The Stronger Country Communities Fund (SCCF) was designed to fund projects throughout regional and rural NSW, however, analysis shows funding decisions were based more on political self-interest rather than the best interests of the community.
About 1550 projects received funding under rounds one, two and three, with more than 80 per cent of those located in electorates held by Coalition MPs.
In rounds one and two – announced prior to the 2019 NSW election – more than 87 per cent of grants were allocated to seats held by Coalition MPs, while projects that were clearly allocated in Labor-held seats accounted for less than four per cent.
It is unclear where some projects in council areas crossing multiple electorates were located.
$100 million worth of funds was distributed during rounds one and three, with $200 million being distributed in round two – just months before the 2019 state election.
NSW Labor Leader Jodi McKay said it was blatantly obvious the SCCF was not to assist communities throughout rural and regional NSW: “This was designed to buy the last election.”
“This taxpayers money. It is not the Liberal-National Parties’ slush fund.
"We should not normalise this type of behaviour,” she said.
Four of the largest grants in round two went to marginal seats, two to fairly safe Coalition seats, one to a National seat with changing members, one to a safe Nationals seat and one to a safe Labor seat.
The largest of all three round– a grant worth more than $3 million in round two – went to Snowy Monaro Regional Council, located in the marginal seat of NSW Nationals leader John Barilaro.
An NSW Parliament Upper House inquiry examining the NSW Liberals and NSW Nationals distribution of funds as part of certain grants, will begin on Monday, September 21. Shadow Minister for Local Government, Greg Warren, said the SCCF revelations were just the tip of the iceberg.
“The Berejiklian-Barilaro Government were elected to represent the entire state – not just areas that suited their own political agenda.”
“These were public funds meant to benefit the public – not to bolster the NSW Liberals and NSW National re-election prospects,” Mr Warren said.