End pork-barrelling to restore trust, inquiry hears
Pork-barrelling must be abolished if the federal government wants to return integrity to its grant process, the former chief commissioner of the NSW anti-corruption agency says.
A parliamentary committee examining the Commonwealth grants process was provided with a statement by Peter Hall KC which called for pork-barrelling to be included in the ministerial code of conduct.
The practice, used by major parties in government, targets public money to certain electorates or electors to gain political support.
But Mr Hall said there was legal argument to support the idea that improper spending of public money for party-political benefit could constitute misconduct in public office, a criminal offence.
"We need to ensure that the exercise of public powers in the making of grants serve the public interest and are not exercised in a biased or partial manner that favours the interests of a political party," Mr Hall said.
"The existing legal mechanisms that are intended to protect the public interest have failed to prevent the occurrence of pork-barrelling activity."
The Centre for Public Integrity, of which Mr Hall is a member, recommended increasing parliamentary scrutiny of the grants process by making grant criteria public and passing legislation for criteria of grants over $100 million.
It also recommended ministers be required to report to parliament when their decisions on expenditure deviate from advice from their departments.
The integrity body urged departments be required to make documents relating to the grants administration process public for projects worth more than $100 million.
"Given that public power is substantially derived from public office held, public office-holders ... may only exercise such power to achieve its proper public purpose," Mr Hall said.
"The community is entitled to the protection of a legislative scheme that will ensure accountability in that regard and thereby maintain the public trust."