Labor pushes for anti-rorts laws to bring 'dodgy decisions' into the light

Labor Senator Katy Gallagher. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong
Labor Senator Katy Gallagher. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong

Election pork barrelling would become tougher under new laws proposed by the opposition seeking to overhaul federal government grants programs, making decisions available as close to "real time" as possible.

The "anti-rorts" bill, introduced for a debate by Labor Senator Katy Gallagher on Monday, will push government ministers to release their rationale on where taxpayer money is spent.

If the bill passed, ministers who go against departmental advice on administering grants will need to report their decision to the finance minister within 30 days.

It will also legislate a requirement for the finance minister table those reports in parliament within five sitting days of receiving them.

The Labor finance spokesperson said government MPs had taken the public for a ride, referencing an unnamed Nationals MP who joked net zero compromises would only be made if the regions received extra funding in a media report earlier this month.

Senator Gallagher said the brazen comments were an example of how the federal government had normalised the politicisation of grants programs.

"The rorts have reached a crisis point," she said on Monday.

"This government is at the point where they don't even care about being caught anymore and they're actually joking, in broad daylight, about what is to come in the lead-up to the next election.

"They do it so casually in the hope that Australians will think that this approach to budgeting is a perfectly legitimate strategy."

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Coalition Senator Claire Chandler said while the proposal had some "reasonable intentions", it created duplication with existing rules over integrity.

The Tasmanian senator said the government had launched a website four years ago, which provided the public with transparency.

Faster reporting requirements, such as the proposed one-month period for ministers, would also lead to more inaccurate information, Senator Chandler said.

"[Ministers] must consider official advice, but they are not rubber stamps, and they are obliged to use their own judgement so they may take a different view of officials," she said.

"Transparency is not only achieved through periodic reporting to the parliament but it's also achieved directly and faster through online reporting to the wider public.

"This bill evidently has some reasonable intentions around transparency but it is not taking into account the processes this government has already put in place to ensure transparency of government."

Greens Senator Larissa Waters expressed her support for the Labor bill, adding the list of rorts demonstrated an urgent need for a Commonwealth anti-corruption body.

The senator introduced and passed a bill enabling a federal integrity body more than two years ago but said it remained "languishing" in the lower house.

"The Australian public are fed up with the rorting, they're fed up with the corruption, and they deserve better," she said.

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This story Labor pushes for anti-rorts bill as federal election nears first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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