Pork-barrelling is a metaphor for vote buying in particular electorates to secure votes, normally for the incumbent politician. It involves appropriating public funds – that’s important, you never use your own money or that of your party – prior to an election and applying them to normally worthy causes but with the prime purpose being to secure votes. It goes on in almost every democracy and can involve roads and bridges to nowhere or, literally in PNG, distributing pigs to remote villages in return for votes.
The Energy Assistance Payment announced by Josh Frydenberg last week is a classic case of pork-barrelling. The one-off payments of $75 for singles and $125 for couples will go to 2.4 million pensioners, 744,000 disability pensioners, 280,000 carers, 242,000 single parents and 225,000 veterans and their dependants (and belatedly to those on Newstart). It is supposed to convey to the section of the electorate who receive this largesse that the coalition has an energy policy and that they are thinking of you : in reality they don’t and they are not.
The so called Community Environment Program is another example but it is a little more tricky as it doesn’t actually exist yet. As the Department of Environment assistant secretary Steve Costello, noted at Senate Estimates last week : the proposed program “is not open for applications, there is no successful grant under that program because the money is not appropriated, there has been no application process.”
So that’s fairly straight forward isn’t it ? There evidently will be a Community Environment Program but it won’t be open for applications until the new financial year and the grants will not be announced until September and to run its course, the coalition have to be re-elected and the recipients selected.
So why in March was Chris Crewther Liberal member for the seat of Dunkley (held by a margin of 1.4 per cent) along with hapless Environment Minister Melissa Price award almost $40,000 of non-existent environment grants to community groups in Crewther’s marginal Victorian seat ? Well, the answer to that lies in the words : marginal seat .
In several social media posts last month, Crewther, announced grants of between $7,500 and $20,000 under this Community Environment Program and he included video coverage of himself and Minister Price shaking hands with all and sundry to congratulate them on their successful grant applications : the posts have now been deleted.
When quizzed about this in parliament Minister Price said that “if you’re going to pork-barrel in an electorate you need to do it before the election not after it, you effing idiot.”
Well, that’s not precisely what she said but it’s what she meant. What she actually said was that the government had not announced any money and the trip with Crewther related to “expressions of interest” for the program and he had invited her “to speak to a number of really good local community environment projects.” At which point she had to hastily leave the parliamentary chamber as her pants spontaneously combusted.
But Labor’s environment spokesman, Tony Burke, then read from a media release issued by Crewther on March 15, which quoted the minister and announced funding to four community groups in Dunkley including video clips featuring himself and the minister with announcements of $10,000 in Frankston, $7,500 in Boggy Creek and $10,000 at Downs Estate.
“If no announcements under the program had been made, why does the minister appear with quotes in the media release and each of these announcements is accompanied by a video with the minister present. How can it be that she claims none of it ever happened when she’s quoted in the media release and is personally in the video?” Mr Burke asked.”
This important question was left hanging, as our accidental prime minister advised the speaker that this seemed to be a good time to wind up Question Time and the forty-fifth parliament.
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