NSW member for Ballina, Tamara Smith (Greens), has spoken of disgust at the latest Liberal-National government grant rorts scandal, which has directly impacted this electorate and the neighbouring Lismore electorate.
Freedom of information requests from Ms Smith’s colleague in the upper house, David Shoebridge MLC, show the Lismore electorate received less than two-and a-half million dollars in recovery funds, after the so-called Black Summer of 2019/2020, while the Ballina electorate received none.
The NSW Bushfire Economic Recovery grants scheme has been under investigation in a parliamentary inquiry this month, with analysis by Michael West Media showing nearly all of the $177 million in Round One was distributed to coalition-held seats, without a proper application process, and without independent oversight.
A council general manager, in The Nationals-held Clarence electorate, told Michael West the Clarence Valley Council was simply told ‘to provide shovel-ready projects’; and ‘didn’t know’ what the application was for; and thought the process was ‘probably’ pork-barrelling.
Greens MP Tamara Smith told Bay FM’s Community Newsroom last week that the grants scheme was basically ‘a slush fund for The Nationals’.
Residents and businesses on all sides of Mount Nardi in the Byron Shire and Lismore Local Government Area (LGA) were living in anxiety from day to day, while a fire there raged for weeks in late 2019, burning through the national park and threatening the Rocky Creek Dam vicinity. Further south, grass fires were prone to flare up on high fire danger days, while fires throughout the state meant visitors and workers who would normally travel to the region weren’t guaranteed safe passage.
Estimated $90m damage
Economic damage to the Ballina Shire was officially estimated at $90 million, with Ms Smith saying the figure mostly represented losses in the tourism sector, but also took into account interruptions to usual supply chains.
Ms Smith said the deputy premier’s offer last week to speak to her and other non-coalition MPs whose electorates missed out on much-needed funding was too little, too late, and further underlined a lack of accountability in the grants process.
‘We don’t want to get money that is not fair and open and transparent,’ Ms Smith said, ‘it belies a larger picture’.
‘How does a pulp mill assist reliance into the future with bushfires?’ the Ballina MP asked, referring to a Visy Pulp and Paper mill in the Snowy Valleys, which was awarded $10 million from the fund.
Independent media outlet Crikey described the business as ‘controlled by one of the Coalition’s biggest donors, Anthony Pratt’.
♦ Mia Armitage is a Bay FM member.
♦ Full story at www.echo.net.au. Listen to the full interview with Tamara Smith at Bay FM.