NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro admits to pork barrelling bushfire relief funds

Appearing before a parliamentary inquiry into alleged pork barrelling, NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro has defended the Government’s scattered allocation of bushfire relief funds as an “investment.”

On Monday, John Barilaro informed the inquiry that councils in non-Coalition seats were not eligible for bushfire relief funding. One such council was the Blue Mountains, the 12th worst affected area in the Black Summer bushfires, who reportedly received no relief funding as their application didn’t meet the grant’s conditions. Blue Mountains mayor, Mark Greenhill, has since rejected the NSW Deputy Premier’s claims, arguing that the council’s proposals were “carefully thought-out.”

During the inquiry, Barilaro went on to defend the distribution, arguing that what some call “pork barrelling,” he calls an “investment.” “It’s a name that I’ve never distanced myself from because I’m actually proud of … what it represents,” he explained to the committee.

“When you think about it, every single election that every party goes to, we make commitments. You want to call that pork barrelling, you want to call that buying votes, it’s what the elections are for.” 

Bushfires in Blue Mountains

Throughout the inquiry, Barilaro defended the government’s choices, saying councils in Labor-held seats, including the Blue Mountains, had not been eligible because “they were not of sufficient size or readiness.” As left in the dark as the rest of us, Mark Greenhill said his council was never informed of this, “even though we persisted in asking for feedback.”

After losing 114 buildings and suffering over $65 million worth of damage last year, the Blue Mountains City Council applied for $5.4 million to fund 23 “shovel-ready” projects. Yet, all 23 were knocked back because, as Barilaro said during the hearing, “they weren’t ready under the criteria that they had to be able to be completed within six months or started within six months … [with] a million-dollar minimum threshold.” 

One can’t help but ask, how could the region have met the criteria for the fund if they did not know about it?

In the same boat are two other non-Coalition seats, the Central Coast and Ballina who, despite recording damages worth $163 million and $4.2 million, also missed out on funding.

Committee chair and Greens MP David Shoebridge was left scratching his head.“The only document he relied on to explain how the money was allocated was a two-page briefing note of talking points, which was tendered,” Shoebridge explained. “Every time we look in this inquiry the evidence we get from witnesses is contradicted by the facts on the ground.”

Whilst the NSW parliamentary committee investigates the “integrity, efficacy and value for money” of NSW Government’s grant programs, Barilaro has proudly adopted the new nickname “John Pork–Barrel-aro.”

The Deputy Premier says the areas badly hit by last year’s bushfires will be prioritised in the next round of funding.

He talks the talk, fingers crossed Mr Barrel-aro trots the trot.