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EDITORIAL

Roll out the barrel! It’s a tradition

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.

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Your Say

‘Enjoy the day … we have a great country’

Well, it is that time of the year again, our national day is upon us, with the now annual brouhaha that it brings.
You can guarantee opinion pieces (like this one) in abundance, all of them consistently disagreeing with the other.
There will be those who argue that “changing the date” is all but essential to our national well-being and those who will claim that to change this date would be evidence of an overwhelming malaise.
Some will claim Australia Day is essential to our culture and others will suggest that we don’t have any culture to begin with!
Overwhelmingly, like so much modern discourse, there seems to be abundant ignorance and overblown rhetoric, and precious little considered thought and debate.
For a start, those who argue about the tradition of Australia Day neglect to mention that the day was only legally “locked in”, as it were, in 1994.
Previously, it had been held on the closest Monday in order to provide a long weekend.
To be honest, I like this idea.
Especially given that January 26 is when the First Fleet arrived in Sydney Harbour, not on the Australian continent.
The ship “Supply” had been at Botany Bay since January 18, over a week.
Other ships in the fleet arrived over the following days.
Given the First Fleet arrived at a various times, going back to having Australia Day (returning to tradition perhaps?) around about, somewhere near to, in the vicinity of, January 26, seems to have some historical merit.
Of course, those who refuse to countenance any change to tradition, as they see it, have no monopoly on silliness.
I have seen interviews with those who are protesting to “change the date” and some of them would make a stronger person than I cringe.
Equally, the claim that the date is insulting to all Aboriginal people is a memo that many Aborigines seem to not have received.
Just like broader Australia, the indigenous inhabitants have a wide variety of views on the subject.
That these people are expressing their rights and views as individuals and do not feel compelled to follow any given “party line” is one of the few edifying elements of this debate.
As for the claims and counter claims about our culture, I would suggest that these people do not know where to look.
Recently I joined a fair percentage of Narrabri’s population in heading to Tamworth to experience music and, I would argue, a large dose of culture.
My group very much enjoyed a line-up that included Paul Kelly and Cold Chisel.
I, along with thousands of others, was given a heartfelt welcome by an Uncle Nev, saw indigenous artists such as Kev. Carmody and Troy Cassar-Daly join Scottish immigrant, Jimmy Barnes, on stage.
I listened to music that celebrated this country, that reflected in a profound way on life and death, told stories of the outcast and misguided, and referenced our land, our places and our culture.
All of this told by a selection of people ranging from those whose ancestors have been here from “time immemorial” to those who were born on the other side of the world.
In the course of the evening one of my group began what was, for them, a fascinating study that they called “drunk middle aged mum watching” and we thoroughly enjoyed some who, probably should have known better, reprising – or at least attempting to reprise – dance moves that they had probably learned in the 1980s.
To our delight, one of these ladies in the middle of a dance move that almost certainly felt to her better than it looked to us, began to dance with one of the police who were patrolling the venue.
Given the constabulary had a very quiet night, the police officer, ever the gentleman, joined the lady in a few very suave moves.
Broad smiles, general laughter and “good on ya’s” were exchanged and the lady, with a vibrant shade of hair, went back to enjoying her night, as did the officer.
Now you can argue all you want, but you will never convince me that that is not an example of a culture worth celebrating.
So for what it’s worth. Enjoy the day and know that, for better or worse, we have a great country.
Bill Doyle, The Courier’s occasional guest columnist.

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