Where Have The Bushfire Recovery Funds Really Gone?

Want more Junkee in your life? Sign up to our newsletter, and follow us on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook so you always know where to find us.

Communities that were left devastated by last year’s summer bushfire tragedy haven’t seen a single cent from the first round of government recovery funds.

A new skydiving park received millions over those who lost homes and businesses, and the government is being accused of blatant pork-barrelling.

So what exactly is pork-barrelling, and why are some people missing out on relief money that was meant for them?

Where Did The Bushfire Relief Money Go?

In November the government fast-tracked a 177 million dollar bushfire rescue package, which it said was going to help communities in NSW that had been affected by last year’s bushfires.

The Blue Mountains didn’t receive any of that money.

A Skydiving Adventure Park in the Mid North Coast was given 11 million dollars, the Snowy Valley region was allocated 10 million dollars for upgrades, and an engineered coastal seawall in Nambucca received 3.6 million dollars.

It’s caused a lot of anger because The Blue Mountains was one of the worst-affected areas in NSW, that still remains incredibly vulnerable to bushfires.

The fires burned through 80% of the area. People lost their homes and their jobs, and the estimated financial toll on the popular tourist destination was around $560 million.

Accusations of pork-barrelling have been circulating, because the one thing all the places that received money have in common, is coalition seats.

The Bushfire Pork-Barrelling Isn’t Anything New

Pork-barrelling is something that’s been a part of politics since, like, forever.

It’s a metaphor for when people in government positions funnel public money back into their own hands, to gain more power.

A politician could, for example, secure more election votes through delegating government funding to communities that hold their party’s seat.

Luke Beck: “Politicians [and] governments give grants and money to areas where they think that will buy them maximum political advantage. So an area where the local MP might be at risks of losing his or her seat in the next election, you know, they might fund that in order to help that MP.”

It’s the sort of dodgy behaviour that led to an inquiry into the NSW Berejiklian government spending 95% of a 252 million community grant on Coalition seats, right before the 2019 election.

And it’s what also happened with the “sports rorts” affair under the Keating government, which a report concluded last year didn’t give funding to the most deserving applicants. It was all about currying political favours.

What Happens Next?

Applications for a second round of bushfire-relief funding worth 250 million recently closed.

But the controversy of the first rescue package has now expanded a parliamentary inquiry that was already happening, cracking down on all sketchy distributions of council grants in NSW.

Politicians like Premier Gladys Berejiklian have refused to apologise for past scandals, on the grounds that there’s an assumption that pork-barrelling is just a thing politicians have always done.

Which is sort of true, because pork-barrelling isn’t technically illegal.

LB: “Both sides of politics are guilty of this, but there are ways of fixing it. We could have systems set up where funding decisions are made independently. Or if they are made by ministers, then they are done so in accordance with clear criteria and published transparent outcomes, so we know who’s getting what and why. It is doable, but it requires a combined effort by politicians who are motivated by public good, and by ordinary people who will push and force other politicians to go along with it.”

The Takeaway

It’s really not that shocking that pork-barrelling is a part of politics. But the bushfires were a traumatic event for people who are still waiting on support money to help rebuild their lives.

The parliamentary inquiry could lead to systemic change but, in the meantime, hopefully the next round of funding actually goes to the places and the people that need it the most.