False claims pork barrelling is legal:ICAC

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Disinformation about the legality of pork barrelling has been spread by senior politicians who appear not to grasp the law, the chief commissioner of the NSW corruption watchdog says.

Outgoing Chief Commissioner of the Independent Commission Against Corruption Peter Hall said comments by former prime minister Scott Morrison suggesting pork barrelling was not illegal lacked understanding.

Pork barrelling is the practice of spending taxpayer funds to shore up political support, or in the context of an election, win votes.

"There appears to be an amount of uncertainty and disinformation as to the lawfulness or otherwise of pork barrelling practices," Mr Hall told a forum convened by ICAC on Friday.

"During the last federal election, the former prime minister (Scott Morrison) in reference to the practice of pork barrelling raised the question, as reported in The Sydney Morning Herald, quote, 'No one is suggesting anyone has broken any laws are they?'.

"Some ministerial comments to similar effects have been made at the state level, suggesting that pork barrelling is normal and legal."

The comments were concerning and appeared to show elected officials had a lack of knowledge of the law, he said.

Four components of the law could be applied to pork barrelling, Mr Hall said, including public trust, the common law offence of misconduct in public office, the NSW Ministerial Code, and the jurisdiction and statutory functions of the ICAC.

Former NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian previously defended pork barrelling as "not illegal" after it was revealed 95 per cent of the $252 million Stronger Communities Fund grants program was allocated to Coalition-held seats.

She conceded the grants may have helped her government win the 2019 election.

"It's not an illegal practice, unfortunately it does happen from time to time by every government," she said in November 2020.

In the lead up to the 2019 election, then leader of the NSW Nationals John Barilaro told AAP he aspired to be treasurer, and wanted the nickname "Pork Barrel-aro".

"People already call me Pork Barrel-aro ... I'd probably take it to another level," he said.

An issue had arisen around corruption occurring in plain sight, according to Professor of Public Policy and Law at Griffith University AJ Brown.

"There's plenty of people, I suspect that John Barilaro might have been one of them, who would say, 'Yeah, well, we'll just do it openly. We'll just say yeah, these are the reasons, and dare anybody to tell us that this is not in the public interest'."

He said transparency around when ministers rejected official advice could be used to deter bad decisions.

Director of the Constitutional Reform Unit Anne Twomey told the forum many MPs and ministers were insufficiently guided after being elected.

"Members of parliament and ministers don't get educated in any formal way in relation to their roles, they get educated by an apprenticeship basis," Prof Twomey said.

"And in that apprenticeship basis, that's where they learn about pork barrelling and all those sorts of things, and it becomes totally normalised."

Shadow Special Minister of State John Graham said Labor wanted to see a cultural change in the awarding of grants.

"One view was that at another time, at another place, you might not need to do that, but we believe legislation is required," Mr Graham said Friday.

He said follow-the-dollar powers were needed in NSW to allow the state's auditor to track how government money was spent.

Mr Graham also called on the government to support Labor's Grants Administration Bill in the lower house next week.

He said the bill would implement follow-the-dollar provisions and allow the public to view upcoming and previously awarded grants in one central website.

It would also mean ministers who overruled departmental advice over funding and grants would have to explain why in writing.

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