6 June 2022

On 3 June 2022 the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) held a Forum to examine the practice of pork barrelling, including whether it is lawful and ethical and whether it could constitute corrupt conduct.

The Guardian reported the outgoing ICAC chief, Peter Hall QC, telling the forum that the NSW Stronger Communities fund was on the ”other side of the line” of what was permissible.

This is particularly relevant to the Central Coast and the council merger process.

The $252 million Stronger Communities fund was originally designed to help councils that amalgamated with the costs of merging. Mr. Hall referred the fund as an example of pork barrelling, where “almost its sole motive was political”. (The Guardian, 3/6/22).

In a 2018 briefing note, Berejiklian’s staff wrote that they were “working to get the cash out the door in the most politically advantageous way” (The Guardian, 3/6/22).

Perhaps the most notorious case was the awarding of $90million to Hornsby Council—which wasn't amalgamated.

There were no assessments and no guidelines - projects were identified by staffers in the offices of the Premier and Deputy Premier. These staffers asked government MPs to propose projects for funding.

The Central Coast was cited as an example of how this worked. In a parliamentary inquiry, a staffer from the Deputy Premier’s office described the process of identifying projects:

[T]he office … spoke to local MPs about putting forward projects. A number of projects were put forward from the local member, Mr Crouch, and those were passed on to the Office of Local Government, as requested

In February 2022, the NSW Audit Office found that the assessment and approval processes for this program lacked integrity.

The Report from the NSW Audit Office listed twenty-five projects on the Central Coast  provided with a total of $5,500,520. Of these 25 projects, 21 were located in the State electoral seat of Terrigal.  The remaining four projects were 1) Regional Development Australia Central Coast Annual Funding  2) Hylton Moore Park floodlighting for Central Coast Baseball, 3) Mingara Regional Athletics Track resurfacing and 4) Gosford Musical Society acquisition of multipurpose building.