By SOOFIA TARIQ
The NSW Senate inquiry into the Government’s ‘Stronger Communities Fund’ has delivered its’ report, calling the scheme “a clear abuse of the grants process”.
The inquiry was launched following widespread backlash towards the Berejiklian government over their handling of the grants fund, which Labor and Greens politicians say amounted to “pork barrelling.”
Inner West Mayor Darcy Byrne, a member of the Labor party, described the report into the $252 million fund, set up to help amalgamated councils, as “damning.” Despite being an amalgamated council, the Inner West Council received no funding through the scheme.
“The Premier and Deputy Premier cooked up this scheme between them with no proper process, that councils that had dared to oppose the government and opposed forced amalgamation were deliberately punished by being excluded from applying for funding”, said Mayor Byrne.
The senate inquiry found that allegations of ‘pork barrelling’ were substantiated.
The majority of councils which received funding through the scheme were in Liberal party control, including the Hornsby Council, which did not go through the amalgamation process.
Committee Chair, David Shoebridge noted “one of the most remarkable pieces of evidence before the committee was how that $90 million was paid to Hornsby Council within 72 hours, without any application form from the council and after just a couple of phone calls and emails.”
Mayor Byrne says that he was never notified of grant applications opening saying, “when the grants round of funding under the stronger communities programme was opened, they deliberately never notified councils like the Inner West and Canterbury-Bankstown.”
“They never notified us that the grants were open or that we could apply so we were prevented from applying.”
He says that if the funds were distributed “fairly on a per capita basis” to amalgamated councils, the Inner West would have received $24 million in funding. This money could have gone towards the construction of a new local library.
Byrne describes the scheme as a “slush fund” and is not confident that the Government will accept responsibility for the mismanagement of funds or implement the recommendations handed down by the inquiry.
“No one’s paid any price at all,” he said.
“I don’t feel confident that the problem has been addressed and I worry that the government now thinks that they are above the law,” He added.
Bryne will put forth a motion in the next council meeting to endorse the report, including David Shoebridge’s Chair foreword and all recommendations, as well as an additional round of grant funding to be opened.
“We’re going to continue to fight to have the $24 million that our community was cheated out of returned so that we can invest it in local community infrastructure projects.”