New South Wales : Bushfires Speech

February 04, 2021

In November, $177 million of federal New South Wales funding for bushfire recovery projects was announced. It turns out that just one per cent of the funding went to Labor state seats—a blatant bias, not based on where the bushfire impact occurred. My seat was the litmus test for this fast-track round of funding, and the Berejiklian and Morrison governments failed that test.

The Hawkesbury side of my electorate, a state Liberal held seat which had 73 per cent of its area burnt and a $33 million economic impact, got $4 million for very worthy projects. The Blue Mountains side, a Labor state seat with nearly 50 per cent of its area burnt and around a $66 million economic impact, received nothing. The state member for Blue Mountains, Trish Doyle, was not consulted on what projects might be ready to go. By contrast, the state member for Hawkesbury, Robyn Preston, was clearly part of what was otherwise a very secretive process.

The Morrison government has outsourced the decision-making to John Barilaro and the New South Wales Liberals and Nationals. Just like they've outsourced border control, just like they outsourced aged care control and protections during COVID, they've outsourced this distribution of federal funds. There was a report commissioned and paid for by the federal government, at a cost of more than $100,000, to provide data to help fairly distribute funding. It was paid to Peter Crone, a former Liberal staffer, who was hand-picked by the Prime Minister's office. Was the data passed on? Was it ignored? Who knows. But let's look at the comparison. The Snowy Valleys, with a 37.9 per cent burn scar, received 12 separate grants, totalling $32.9 million. Tamworth, with a 6.3 per cent burn scar, got $275,000. The Midcoast, with a 23.6 per cent burn scar, got more than $8 million for the refurbishment of a sports stadium. We don't begrudge this funding for regions, but the Blue Mountains, with a 50 per cent burn scar, got not a cent. It is just wrong! They were ready-to-go projects. The list released by Blue Mountains mayor Mark Greenhill shows 24 projects, worth around $5 million—projects that would have helped the communities of Blackheath, Bell and Mount Victoria, which directly suffered fire damage, and the businesses who took such a massive economic hit. There is no explanation for why these were ignored.

The New South Wales government has a track record of rorting public funds, and the Premier is unapologetic about allegations of pork-barrelling, saying, 'It's not an illegal practice.' With federal complicity, the state Labor seat in my electorate is treated so differently from the state Liberal seats. That is not a way to recover from bushfire. The Morrison government have had a hands-off approach during the bushfires, and now they've got a hands-off approach when it comes to recovery. This is the Prime Minister who said, 'Whatever it takes.' Well, it's going to take intervention with the New South Wales government to make sure the deal is fair.