NSW officials have been accused of “treating public funds like a piggy bank” – and this graph exposes the massive scale of the issue.
The NSW government is facing fresh allegations of pork barrelling over payments from a tourism fund that skewed heavily towards Coalition-held areas.
An exclusive analysis shows seven out of 10 grants from the “Refresh and Renew” scheme went to businesses in Coalition electorates, leading Labor to slam the ”clear bias” in the funding process.
“Yet again the NSW government has been caught treating public funds like its own piggy bank,” Opposition Leader Chris Minns said.
Previously unreleased documents also reveal a grant was handed out to a business owned by a director of a tourism board that selected applications for assessment, despite a warning of a potential conflict of interest.
There is no suggestion the business owner did anything wrong.
The government said in February last year it had set aside $1 million to fund the grant scheme, which gives eligible businesses $10,000 to spruce up their facilities so that customers can have more enjoyable holidays.
A Labor analysis of the locations of the successful applicants revealed only 32 per cent were in non-government electorates.
The other 68 per cent of the funding went to businesses in Liberal and Nationals seats.
That‘s despite Coalition MPs holding only about half of the seats in the NSW lower house.
One of the $10,000 grants went to a business on the mid-north coast that‘s owned by one of the directors of a government board involved in assessing the applications.
The application was assessed by other officials at the same NSW government “destination network” where the business owner was a board director, and chosen among a handful of other applications for consideration of funding.
The application was elevated for assessment by the tourism agency Destination NSW, which oversees the funding process.
An email released to Labor under an order in parliament shows colleagues at the destination network were concerned about a conflict of interest.
“I have not opened or assessed (the application) given the owner and likely applicant … is a director on the board and in consideration for the perception of conflict of interest,” an official wrote in an email in May last year.
“Please let me know how you’d prefer me to handle this.”
The email said the colleague’s application was one of 159 that had been received in that particular part of the state.
Only 18 of them were successful.
“All applications were assessed against the same criteria, with electorate not a factor or consideration in any aspect of the assessment or recommendation,” a Destination NSW spokeswoman said in response to questions from NCA NewsWire.
The spokeswoman said the business owner who was on the local tourism board was not involved in assessing their own application.
“Thousands of eligible small businesses outside of Coalition electorates have missed out on a fair share of grant funding,” Mr Minns said.
“Dominic Perrottet needs to put the community ahead of his political party and mates.”
Mr Minns called on the government to support a Bill to reform the grants process.
Tourism Minister Stuart Ayres, who had final say in the “Refresh and Renew” assessment process, did not respond to questions about the grants.
On Tuesday, the NSW government copped heavy criticism by the state’s Auditor-General for its handling of another grant scheme, the Stronger Communities Fund.
Nearly all of the $252 million in that fund went to councils in government seats, the Auditor-General said.
Source: News AU