Pork barrelling: what is it and why do we need to talk about it?

Pork barrelling: what is it and why do we need to talk about it?

The term “pork barrelling” has been thrown around in the political arena for years. But what does it even mean and how does it relate to the introduction of a Federal Independent Commission Against Corruption? (Image via John Veage)

By Sophie Gauvin | @Sophgauvin

Pork barrelling refers to the act of politicians spending taxpayer money in a bid to win election votes.

Electorates with marginal seats often reap the rewards of public spending rorts, with the government hoping swing voters will lean in favour of the candidate in power.

In late 2020, former NSW Premier, Gladys Berejiklian, admitted that $140 million in grants to councils was pork barrelling; but she conceded that this behaviour is not unusual in governments, The Guardian reported.

“It’s not an illegal practice,” she said.

“Unfortunately, it does happen from time to time by every government.”

Another example of pork barrelling in recent Australian politics occurred in 2018, when the Coalition government dedicated $100 million to upgrading sports facilities across Australia, often referred to as “the sports rorts”.

A report created by the Australian National Audit Office in 2020 demonstrated that an evaluation of the grants was conducted by the sports minister’s office, alongside the Australian Sports Commission, which identified marginal electorates held by the Coalition and seats that were to be targeted by the Coalition in the 2019 election.

The ABC suggests that of the 700 grants that were funded, over half were awarded to serve a political agenda rather than a genuine need to upgrade.

Results from the ABC’s Vote Compass indicate that 85 per cent of Australians feel that corruption is a problem in this country, with only one percent suggesting that it is not a problem at all.

Vote Compass results from 173,956 respondents between April 10-13, 2022. (Data via ABC)

This is where the proposed introduction of a Federal Independent Commission Against Corruption fits in.

In 2018, the Coalition committed to establishing a federal anti-corruption body; however, this has not yet manifested.

Senators, such as Jacqui Lambie, have criticised the Coalition, suggesting they have intentionally delayed the set-up of a genuine corruption watchdog, according to The Guardian.

In their campaigns for this federal election, the Australian Labor Party and The Greens have hammered home the need for an anti-corruption commission with retrospective powers that operates independently from the government.

Leader of the Opposition, Anthony Albanese, has reassured Australians that, if elected, a Labor Government would create a federal anti-corruption commission that would examine the alleged pork barrelling of federal government grant programs, according to The Guardian.

“I put the prime minister on notice that a national anti-corruption commission will be able to look at the sports rots program and these rorted programs of taxpayer funds,” Albanese says.

Labor’s proposed anti-corruption commission would operate with the powers of a royal commission to investigate systemic occurrences of corruption in the federal government, according to the ABC.

Check out the tool They Vote For You to see what your local MP stands for, and our other stories to ready yourself for voting in the 2022 federal election.

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