The practice of ‘pork-barrelling’ must be as old as politics itself.
The modern term has come from American English (around the 1860s) when it was used to describe how politicians favoured certain areas with grants and special projects in order to ensure votes for the next election.
American politics has long been full of examples of the practice of pork-barrelling and its relation, ‘earmarking’, the attachment of a special amendment to a separate bill in order to deliver a promised benefit to a particular area.
It was not unknown for Roman rulers to hand out public funds for baths, aqueducts, temples and other community structures in order to curry favour or settle obligations in various parts of the Roman Empire.
British politics is so cut-throat that it is difficult for a politician of any stripe to get far with a really dodgy deal – although the Brexit shambles gave rise to some allegations of ‘sweeteners’ being offered here and there among political groups in return for their support.
But, the art of ‘pork-barrelling’ has been a tried and tested instrument of Australian political life for many years at both national and state levels.
The current ‘Silly-Season’ schmozzle over allegations that both Federal and NSW Coalition sports ministers played the game at their respective elections has occupied the major media outlets in the wake of the declining bushfire news.
Strident voices of protest from Labor and Greens politicians have been heard on the airwaves and read on front pages over the alleged ‘corrupt’ behaviour in the manner in which many millions of dollars in grants to sporting clubs were allocated by the-then Federal Sports Minister Senator Bridget McKenzie and, more recently, by the-then NSW Sports Minister Stuart Ayres.
For her part Senator McKenzie, now deputy Nationals Leader and Minister for Agriculture, had denied any wrong-doing or illegality on her part in the way the $100 million Commonwealth Sports and Infrastructure Grants were allocated before the 2019 elections.
The outcry commenced after the Australian National Audit Office issued a report which found that the allocations were ‘biased’ in favour of seats sought by the Coalition. Senator McKenzie described the calls for her resignations as “absolutely ridiculous”.
For his part, in NSW, Mr Ayres has claimed that the allocations made by the Berejiklian Government before the election were properly assessed and approved.
“Nothing to see here!” has been the response to the outpourings of criticism and calls for resignations.
The whole affair may have a similar ring to the case of a former Labor Sports Minister, Ros Kelly, who resigned as minister after an outcry over sports funding allocations in February, 1994, before leaving parliament entirely 11 month later. “Appalling maladministration”, cried the Liberal-Nationals minority committee members.
The allocation of discretionary grants of public funds by governments has been a long-standing bumpy road in this country.
What the future holds for the ministers currently in the spotlight is not certain
But one thing is certain and that is, honesty, integrity and diligence have always been fragile flowers in our parliaments.To order photos from this page click here