Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Inner West Mayor calls for $24m compensation after ‘systematic rorting’

Inner West Mayor, Darcy Byrne, has called on the NSW Premier to act immediately on the findings released by today the NSW Auditor General into the NSW Government’s “systematic rorting” of council grants.

Mayor Byrne, who made the initial request for the Auditor General to investigate the Stronger Communities program, has called on Dominic Perrottet to compensate the people of the Inner West for $24 million in funding they were improperly prevented from accessing.

“The Auditor General’s report is a scathing indictment of this $252 million slush fund and it is now time for the Government to compensate communities like ours that were cheated out of funding,” Mayor Byrne said.

The Auditor General has found that:

• 96% of the $252 million was allocated to projects in Coalition seats;

• 36% of the funding went to one Council, Hornsby, where NSW Liberal Party President Philip Ruddock is the Mayor;

• $8 million in projects were identified before the guidelines for the project were finalised.

NSW Auditor-General, Margaret Crawford’s report found that the assessment and approval process for Round 2 of the Stronger Communities Fund “lacked integrity”.

“The government decided to prioritise funds for councils that had worked constructively with the government through the 2016 merger process,” the Office said in a statement today.

“However, this information was not included in the program guidelines. The program guidelines were not published and did not contain details of selection and assessment processes. Councils and projects were instead identified by the former Premier, Deputy Premier and Minister for Local Government and communicated to OLG with little or no information about the basis for the council or project selection.”

The Auditor-General found that there was no merit assessment of identified projects.

“This process resulted in 96% of funds allocated to coalition state seats.”

It was found that the assessment process that Create NSW used for the Regional Cultural Fund was robust and produced transparent and defensible recommendations to the minister.

“However, the former Minister for the Arts, in consultation with the former Deputy Premier, did not follow the recommendations of the independent assessment panel in 22% of cases. Reasons for these changes were not documented by Create NSW.”

In a statement today, Mayor Byrne said the findings of the Auditor-General’s investigation had confirmed “one of the largest rorts in the history on NSW”.

“The fact that ICAC is now investigating the awarding of $90 million to Hornsby Council, which is led by the NSW Liberal luminary, Philip Ruddock, shows how disgraceful this whole scandal is,” he said.

He said the Stronger Communities Fund was established to support amalgamated Councils like the Inner West and Canterbury-Bankstown with local infrastructure, but we were improperly prevented from even applying for funds.

“We still desperately need financial assistance for infrastructure, and the Premier should stand up today and commit to working with us on a compensation fund.”

“This is a test for Premier Perrottet. He has said he wants to end his Government’s systemic rorting of grants. It’s time now to act and show that he is the Premier for all of NSW not just blue-ribbon Liberal electorates.”

The Audit Office has recommended the Department of Premier and Cabinet develop a model for grant administration that must be used for all grant programs administered in NSW that:

  • is based on ethical principles such as impartiality, equity and transparency;
  • ensures assessments and decisions can be made against clear eligibility criteria;
  • ensures accountability for decisions and actions of all those who are involved in the program;
  • includes minimum mandatory administration and documentation standards;
  • requires any ministerial override of recommendations to be documented. 

The Department of Planning and Environment should ensure that guidelines prepared for all grant programs are published and include a governance framework that includes accountabilities and key assessment steps, the Audit Office said.

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