Government Sector Finance Amendment (Government Grants) Bill 2021

18 November 2021

Mr ANOULACK CHANTHIVONG (Macquarie Fields) (10:40): — On behalf of the Opposition and as the Shadow Minister for Finance, I support the Government Sector Finance Amendment (Government Grants) Bill 2021.

I thank the Member for Barwon and his colleague in the Upper House the Hon. Robert Borsak.

NSW Labor supports accountability and believes in the necessity of public trust. NSW Labor supports the bill, which is designed to curb the misuse of grants schemes by this Liberal Government.

It is synonymous with pork‑barrelling, grants rorts, conflicts of interest and current ICAC investigations. Each new scandal that is uncovered further erodes public trust in the Government.

Time and time again, the public has been right in its distrust of this Liberal Government. My Upper House colleagues the Hon. John Graham and the Hon. Courtney Houssos were instrumental in uncovering the grants rorts that led to this bill.

The Legislative Council's Public Accountability Committee inquiry into government grants uncovered shocking examples of blatant Liberal Government pork-barrelling. Of course, the former Premier openly gloated about pork-barrelling and said that it was the way this Liberal Government does business with taxpayers' money.

In 2020 the Liberal Government distributed almost $180 million to communities affected by the 2019‑2020 Black Summer bushfires without an open application process. Of the 71 funded projects, only three were in non‑Government electorates.

I think that is worth repeating: Only $2.5 million of the $177 million fund went to families and businesses in non-Government electorates.

The Blue Mountains community, for example, did not receive a single cent for the 23 projects that it put forward for funding despite the Blue Mountains local government area suffering $65 million worth of losses during the fires.

The Central Coast also missed out despite suffering an economic hit of about $163 million.

We must not forget the Liberal Government's brazen pork‑barrelling through the Stronger Communities Fund. Ninety-five per cent of the $252 million fund went to Coalition-held or marginal electorates, yet this Liberal Government wants us to believe the funds were distributed on merit.

Its contempt for the people of New South Wales and their hard-earned taxes is obvious. This Liberal Government has tried to pull the wool over the eyes of the public for more than a decade, but we are not buying what it is selling.

The Government Sector Finance Amendment (Government Grants) Bill 2021 is a necessary step to hold this Liberal Government accountable for its misuse of taxpayers' money.

The bill will require local MPs to be notified of "certain information relating to the application" to grants schemes within their electorates, and it will ensure that an MP is also notified when a grant will be announced.

Given this Liberal Government's tendency to shut out non-Government MPs, this bill makes for a welcome change.

It comes as no surprise that the Government will oppose the bill. It wants us to believe it represents good governance and that it is responsible with taxpayers' money. But the people of New South Wales know better, and the evidence proves it.

We only have to look at the new Premier's track record to see this Liberal Government's fiscal mismanagement. The Premier's record as Treasurer speaks for itself: higher taxes, higher tolls and more privatisation. He set up and oversaw icare, which ripped off thousands of injured workers to the tune of $80 million but sent executives' salaries skyrocketing.

Since 2015, icare has failed to publicly register 422 contracts worth more than $150,000 each. Millions of dollars in contracts were awarded without going to an open tender process, all on the watch of the former Treasurer and now Premier. Does that sound like responsible fiscal management underpinned by a commitment to accountability? Not on your nelly.

"Accountability" is a dirty word for this Liberal Government. The Premier does not want residents to remember that he is responsible for the increasing cost of living in New South Wales.

During the Premier's time as Treasurer, Sydney became the most tolled city on the planet, with motorists now paying $2.3 billion each year in tolls. Most of that pain is felt by household budgets in west and south-west Sydney.

The Premier, of course, wants to distract families and workers who are struggling with the cost of living by spruiking the questionable WestInvest Fund. Residents are right to question whether WestInvest is the Government giving with one hand and taking away with another, given the amount of money it has taken out of the region in tolls.

Residents are also right to question whether WestInvest will become yet another example of blatant pork‑barrelling by this Liberal Government.

The Government Sector Finance Amendment (Government Grants) Bill 2021 is designed to reduce the misuse of government grants and funding schemes like WestInvest.

It is worth repeating that the New South Wales Labor Party supports accountability. The Opposition wants taxpayers' money in grants schemes to be distributed on merit; this Liberal Government does not. That is why the Government will vote against the bill.

Labor will work to rebuild the public trust that this Liberal Government has squandered and eroded.

The Opposition has also introduced its own bill covering New South Wales grants administration to ensure that objectivity, transparency and respect for taxpayers' money are upmost when allocating taxpayers' dollars.

I thank the Member for Barwon for bringing the bill to the Lower House, and I thank his colleague the Hon. Robert Borsak for introducing it in the Upper House.

I commend the bill to the House.