Monday 25th of September 2023

salting the pork barrels...


At first glance, it seemed the Morrison government in a peculiar way admitted its multibillion-dollar Community Development Grant racket was corrupt.

Sure, there was an $11 million gift to a billion-dollar private company in a marginal LNP seat last year – I’ll come back to that – but could the government have been shamed into “doing the right thing” overall?

After The New Daily and Michael West Media back in 2020 exposed the blatant rorting of CDGs to favour Coalition MPs and “seats of interest”, the bare summary of CDG allocations published last year actually shows more money going to Labor-held electorates than the Coalition – $177.7 million to $169.3 million.


That contrasts sharply with the score ever since the Abbott government invented the CDG rort in 2014 – a scam specifically designed for government MPs to exploit without any risk of Auditor-General or public service interference.

For example, over 2020, before media pressure started building, some $400 million was carved up Coalition MPs’ way by a ratio of three to one compared with Labor seats.

Repeating the 2020 exercise for the grants published in 2021, TND collaborator and spreadsheet sleuth Vince O’Grady counted 47.7 per cent of the total $372.6 million in CDGs going to Labor electorates last year, 45.4 per cent going to the Coalition and 6.9 per cent to “other”, the independents and minor parties.

(The “other” has a history of doing disproportionately well out of the CDG baksheesh.)

Did someone in the Morrison government suddenly feel a little embarrassed – I won’t suggest they felt guilty – about being caught red-handed ripping off taxpayers’ money for their political benefit?

Did someone on the Expenditure Review Committee that ticks off such spending experience qualms?

The ERC members are Scott Morrison, Josh Frydenberg, Simon Birmingham, Anne Ruston, Peter Dutton, Dan Tehan, Stuart Robert, Barnaby Joyce and Bridget McKenzie.

A closer look at the 2021 grants suggests not, as does the track record of the ERC members.


For a start, while Labor seats appear to score more money than Coalition seats, there were more than twice as many Coalition grants – 102 to 46.

That raises the suspicion that Labor seats had a few large grants that don’t quite fit the “pork barrel” definition.

For example, the biggest single CDG last year was $33 million that went to the Labor-held seat of Perth.

It went to the Western Australian Cricket Association – it was for rebuilding the WACA.

That’s a bigger-picture investment than the local electorate.


It’s not like, say, the $22 million given to Yeppoon’s Keppel Bay Sailing Club in the LNP seat of Capricornia to build a convention centre. That’s more of your-local-MP-with-a-novelty-cheque project than the WACA.

Similarly, another big grant to a Labor seat was $15 million for the Northern Territory’s Solomon.

It was for the NT Health Department to buy and house a PET scanner and cyclotron machine. It was for providing equipment for treating cancer – something that is a matter of national health, something all Australians should have available.

What that is doing in CDGs instead of the health budget is beyond me.

Just on the postcodes of who received the cash, it looks like Scott Morrison would have to say that Labor’s Patrick Gorman was “a very good local member” – as he said of the largesse showered on Peter Dutton’s seat.

Aside from the WACA motzer, a facile CDG examination shows Mr Gorman’s Perth seat also picked up $16.25 million grant, this one for the Football West Stadium – but that’s the one the Liberal member for Swan Steve Irons claimed at the announcement, chasing the soccer vote.

So Mr Gorman didn’t really score nearly $40 million for his electorate. Sorry, Pat.

Under the Prime Minister’s definition of “a very good local member”, the best in Australia last year was actually Labor’s Emma McBride in the NSW Central Coast seat of Dobell with three grants totalling a bit more than $45 million.


The biggest of those – and the second-biggest overall – was $32.5 million for the University of Newcastle to extend its medical school and research at Gosford Hospital.

Again, something that should be in the health budget but turns up suspiciously in the CDGs, qualifying for particular Morrison government branding.

Dobell also picked up $4.3 million for the Central Coast Council to improve the road to North Avoca and $8.25 million to improve the Umina skate park and environs.

Emma McBride can go into the next election fairly claiming Scott Morrison thinks she is a great local member.

Purely coincidentally, Dobell is a seat the Liberal Party hopes to win from Labor.

There was a 3.3 per cent swing to the Liberals at the last election. Labor was only ahead by 0.76 per cent on primary votes in a seat that finished 51.5 to 48.5 – which means only 1.6 per cent of votes have to change to change party.

As previously explained in stories here, the nifty thing about CDGs is that you can only apply for one if the government invites you to apply. It is purely up to political types to pick the winners.

Aside from Dobell’s $45 million, I’ve identified $103.7 million in CDG grants of the WACA/PET scanner/WA Football type – not local member pork barrelling.

I’m ignoring the tiddlers, such as the $66,000 showing up for Anthony Albanese’s Grayndler because that’s where the RSL NSW branch has its headquarters – the money is for a mural at Wagga Wagga’s RAAF Aviation Heritage Centre.

So take that combined $148.7 million off the theoretical $177.8 million for Labor seats and you’re not left much.

CDGs are still being outrageously, corruptly rorted. The government has no shame.

And the gift to the private company mentioned earlier?

It was $11 million in the marginal LNP seat of Longman for AKD Queensland Pty Ltd to “install two contraflow drying kilns, timer grading/optimisation technology, an upgrade of existing sawmill equipment, construction of a sound barrier and development of site infrastructure to support an upgrade to the main saw line”.

Basically, a free upgrade for the company’s Caboolture softwood operation on the taxpayer.

AKD Queensland is one of the 11 subsidiaries that make up the privately-owned AKD group, headquartered in Colac, Victoria, employing more than 1000 people.

A quick glance at Dun and Bradstreet finds four subsidiaries had sales revenue of $1.2 billion in the last financial year.

AKD is a timber company – it’s in an industry that is booming. Builders can’t get enough pine, prices are skyrocketing.

You might wonder why you are subsidising it through your taxes.

Maybe it just has a very good local member.


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the bias in lawn bowls..

Sure, $17.6 million is peanuts in the general scheme of the Morrison government’s multibillion-dollar grants corruption, but given the historical significance of a bowling club stunt lighting the fuse for blowing up the Coalition’s industrial-scale rorting, let’s go bowling.

(Of course there’s bias in lawn bowls, but having avoided most golfing terms in our examination of the astonishing level of grant corruption in that sport, I’ll resist mentioning jack/kitty, ditch, rink etc.)

The good news is that the government allocation of your money to bowling clubs over the past four years has not been as outrageously, unbelievably lopsided as its golf club politicking.


In bowls, the government money has only favoured Coalition seats over Labor by about two to one.

Or, if the raw numbers are “seasonally adjusted” for the usual oddities we’ve come to expect in grant skewing, it’s more like three to one.

By comparison, the ratio of government to Labor seats in the House of Representatives is 76 to 68 – 53 per cent to 47 per cent, ignoring the minorities. That’s not a great deal, just three percentage points away from 50-50.

Readers should know the form by now.

For 20 months, The New Daily has been collaborating with spreadsheet sleuth Vince O’Grady and his IT support in harvesting grant data from government websites, from the $4 billion Community Development Grants scandal down to, well, bowls.

Trawling the grants hub found 684 gifts to bowls clubs totalling $17.6 million over the past four year via various grants schemes, rorts and wheezes.


And that’s without including Georgina Downer’s infamous $127,373 Liberal Party novelty cheque for the Yankalilla Bowling Club during the 2019 election campaign. The sitting member, Rebekha Sharkie, Centre Alliance, did not get a look in – but Ms Downer still failed to win her father’s former seat anyway.

That cheque was part of the $100 million #sportsrorts disgrace which, being funnelled through an acquiescent “independent” Sports Australia, doesn’t show up in the grants hub.


The neat thing about the bowling club grants is that most are quite small, barely worth the administrative time required to grant them – but they still give the local member the chance to be seen to be supporting the older crowd that are bowls clubs’ members and who vote – and older folk skew conservative.

Larger grants of six figures or close to it are rare – and stand out even more when they go to an apparent Labor electorate.

As usual, the grants to Labor seats are inflated if only judged by the postcodes of the recipients.

For example, the second-biggest bowls club gift last year, $165,000,  seemed to be to Ged Kearney’s Labor electorate of Cooper – but it was for the sport’s top body, Bowls Australia Ltd, which happens to have its office in Cooper and has a much broader ability to appeal to government members.

More obviously intriguing from the viewpoint of politically targeted use of taxpayers’ money is all the cash rolled into the bowls clubs lucky enough to be in the electorate of Corangamite – $612,833 in grants for eight clubs.

Corangamite shows up as a Labor seat, but it was only won in 2019 when the electorate said no to the Liberals’ Sarah Henderson, subsequently rewarded by being plopped into the Senate.

Those various grants were in the works before, during and after the election – it seems the Liberal Party was working hard to try to keep Corangamite and hasn’t given up on winning it back.

$93,899.30 was approved for an upgrade of the Lorne Bowls Club in March 2019.

The Torquay BC won $451,000 in December 2019. Drysdale, Apollo Bay, Inverleigh, Bannockburn, Belmont and Herne Hill all received a serving from the barrel to make up the rest.

It seems bowlers are mighty thick on the ground down Corangamite way – or they’re judged to be worth duchessing in a marginal seat.

Particularly fat grants stand out among the bowls clubs, more so if the postcode indicates a Labor seat. Thus the need to look closer at the  $649,000 to provide shade for the Aspley Memorial BC in Brisbane.

The postcode indicates the Labor seat of Lilley, but it’s actually just over the border in the LNP’s Petrie.

And the biggest bowls-related grant of all during the four years examined was $4.7 million approved in December 2018 for the Devonport Country Club.

It happens to be in the Tasmanian seat of Braddon, an electorate showered with federal money that paid off for the Liberal Party when it took the seat from Labor in 2019.

The biggest mystery for me among all the bowls grants though is the $2.4 million approved for the Thornie BC in 2018 “to provide a function venue and facilities”.

The club is in Perth’s safe Labor seat of Burt – that doesn’t make sense.

The best explanation I can imagine is that it is situated very close to the border with Liberal Andrew Hastie’s Canning.

Indeed, Burt is mostly surrounded by Liberal seats but it still doesn’t quite make sense. Or maybe, to use Scott Morrison’s stated reasoning for such things, maybe Matt Keogh is “a very good member”.

Or maybe, just maybe, there was a balancing of the ledger.

Burt stood out in the Morrison/McKenzie #sportsrorts for being the only electorate not to receive a single cent – and that despite a City of Gosnells application scoring 83 points on the Sport Australia assessment, a score that without political interference would have landed the money.

That’s the fascinating thing about analysing the grants corruption, the way different grants schemes can be used for political advantage.

La Trobe’s Liberal MP Jason Wood won a mention in our golf club story for the $429,000 he was credited for delivering to the Berwick Montuna club, but he’s far from a single-sport MP. His electorate’s Pakenham BC scored $550,000, but that’s far from all.

There’s no better example than Mr Wood’s website of how taxpayers’ money can be used to pitch political advantage through numerous grants to various groups in an electorate – right up to and including a share of #carporks.

Never mind the school funding, “community facilities”, road upgrades and hospital funding that Mr Wood gives the impression of claiming credit for, there are 28 sports clubs copping $16.6 million in La Trobe – and he doesn’t seem to have included the Pakenham BC’s half million yet.

It looks good for the local member, but with grants skewed so heavily with a political bias, it’s hard to see how it is the best outcome for the Commonwealth.


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robert robs the due process....

Senior federal Coalition MP Stuart Robert has been secretly providing advice to a Canberra lobbying and consulting firm that helps large companies win lucrative government contracts and obtain access to senior Coalition politicians, including Peter Dutton.

A cache of leaked emails reveals how Robert used his status as a federal MP in 2017 and 2018 to help the firm, Synergy 360, sign up corporate clients with the promise of helping them navigate the federal public service and political system and meet key decision-makers, including senior Coalition ministers. Synergy 360 is paid a retainer by companies to lobby officials and is paid a commission if a contract is successfully secured.

The emails also show Robert introduced Synergy 360 to overseas officials and businessmen whom he met in his official capacity as an MP. Robert also vouched for Synergy’s managing director and majority shareholder, David Milo, to help Milo secure clients.

The Age and Sydney Morning Herald is not suggesting Robert was an employee of Synergy 360 or was paid for his advice and assistance.

While Milo, a former British military official turned consultant, is Synergy 360’s majority shareholder, one-third of the firm is owned by a company controlled by Queensland businessman John Margerison.

Margerison is a close friend and ex-business partner of Robert and was running the politician’s political fundraising vehicle at the same time Robert was helping Synergy 360 win work. Robert was a director in a separate business founded by Margerison — JM National Property — for almost six months in 2018. Robert stood down as a director prior to being appointed assistant treasurer in August 2018 by then-prime minister Scott Morrison.