NSW Liberals Squander Public Money Via Financial Mismanagement and Vote-Buying

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Liberals squander money

Currying favour with taxpayer dollars was ultimately the undoing of former NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian, and the other pollies that toppled with her. However, her treasurer at the time of the questionable dealings – Dom “does what I ask him to do” Perrottet – still stands.

Indeed, Perrottet is now the leader of the Coalition state government that not only has a tendency to hand over the people’s cash as a means of securing votes, but it also has a habit of misplacing public funds to the point that we’re now paying off a debt for decades to come.

The NSW Audit Office released two reports last week, which further scrutinised last year’s Stronger Communities pork barrelling fiasco that saw the Liberal Nationals hand over 96 percent of $252 million to councils in Coalition seats, as well as uncovering more financial mismanagement.

On Friday, the NSW auditor general Margaret Crawford delivered the second report, in which she outlined that the NSW Treasury’s tricky accounting around a 2020-21 $2.4 billion investment had resulted in a $5.2 billion debt for the state to pay off.

NSW Green MLC David Shoebridge points out that the mounting financial scandals surrounding the current state government all revolve around former state treasurer Perrottet, yet, at present, he continues to stand relatively unscathed in the position of state premier.

As sound as a dollar

“Dominic Perrottet was at the heart of the Stronger Communities grants scandal. He’s been at the heart of the scandal around billions lost in icare, together with the ongoing disaster that was highlighted in the last auditor general report,” advised Shoebridge.

“Collectively, he’s been at the centre of scandals that have seen billions and billions of public money either delivered for overtly political outcomes, or literally lost in a bin fire,” the NSW Greens justice spokesperson told Sydney Criminal Lawyers.

Perrottet established the icare workers compensation scheme back in 2015, when he was finance minister. However, it came to light five years later, that under his watch as treasurer, icare had underpaid 52,000 injured workers to the collective sum of $80 million.

The then treasurer attempted to downplay the extent of the losses in mid-2020.

However, a NSW auditor general report delivered later that year found the scheme hadn’t been following legislative requirements in allocating costs, and further, it hadn’t been adhering to contract disclosure requirements for several years.

“The claim that the Coalition makes the best money and finances has been blown out of the water,” Shoebridge added, following the release of the auditor general’s second scathing report in as many days.

“Reckless” accounting

The NSW Audit Office delivered its State Finances 2021 report last Friday. The inquiry draws attention to a $2.4 billion investment into the Transport Asset Holding Entity (TAHE), which is a July 2020 established for-profit government corporation that replaced the not-for-profit RailCorp.

The Treasury was funnelling transport funding into TAHE as an investment. This avoided accounting for it as expenditure and led to a budget surplus. But the documentation provided to the auditor general revealed there wasn’t enough return coming from it for it to be classified as investment.

Crawford also pointed out that her audit was “significantly delayed” due to “protracted disagreements” over Treasury accounting, which was further exacerbated by information being withheld and not shared with her office in a “timely basis”.

Shoebridge explained that the auditor general’s report found that there was $6.6 billion worth of “just plain accounting errors” within the documentation provided, as well as a debt that will stick around long after the Perrottet government is no more.

“Today’s audit report has shown that the people of NSW will be paying off a $20 billion debt created by the government when it spun the state’s transport assets off into this separate entity called the Transport Assets Holding Entity,” he underscored. “We will be paying off that debt until 2052.”

Living high off the hog

Pork barrelling is the distribution of public money to benefit government-held electorates for political gain. Over recent years, the current NSW Liberal Nationals government has excelled at this practice, which Shoebridge asserts should be criminalised.

As chair of the NSW Public Accountability Committee, he was instrumental in uncovering the preferential distribution of the overwhelming majority of the Stronger Communities Fund to councils in Coalition-held areas, much of it signed off on by then premier Berejiklian and her deputy Barilaro.

According to Crawford’s office, the approval process “lacked integrity”, while the “deficient” program guidelines weren’t even used when allocating the funding to chosen projects. And the only record of approval for much of the allocations were staff emails.

“The conclusions of the audit office and the Public Accountability Committee are effectively the same,” Shoebridge explained, “that this was a scheme that had no integrity and was designed to produce political outcomes rather than benefit the people of NSW.”

Pending reckoning

The myth that the Coalition is the best manager of the economy has certainly taken a battering of late. And this has only been compounded by the ICAC revelations about Berejiklian, along with the Morrison government’s flat-out refusal to deliver its promised federal corruption commission.

Whilst the four state byelections of the weekend just passed, has pushed the Perrottet government into further minority, as it lost its former safe seat of Bega to Labor.

This loss coupled with a large swing against the government in the seat of Willoughby is being taken as a sign of the growing dissatisfaction in Perrottet’s leadership since he took over the top job last October.

Shoebridge outlined that the revelations of the NSW Liberal Nationals’ dodgy financial dealings have at least seen some accountability with Gladys Berejiklian, John Barilaro, as well as former heads of Treasury, Transport and icare, “all no longer holding office”.

“The one person who has sailed unscathed through all of this has been Dominic Perrottet,” the Greens MLC concluded. “In fact, Dominic Perrottet has been promoted following the scandal.”

“I thought that only happened in the NSW Police Force.”

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Paul Gregoire

Paul Gregoire is a Sydney-based journalist and writer. He's the winner of the 2021 NSW Council for Civil Liberties Award For Excellence In Civil Liberties Journalism. Prior to Sydney Criminal Lawyers®, Paul wrote for VICE and was the news editor at Sydney’s City Hub.

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