NEWS THAT MATTERS

Betrayed by the Liberal Government

The NSW Auditor General published its findings last week into the $100 million Bushfire Local Economic Recovery (BLER) program – a fund established to support communities, like the Central Coast, which were devastated by the Black Summer Bushfires.

There would not be a person on the Central Coast that wouldn't remember the devastation, the fear and the final impact on our community from the Black Summer Bushfires. But when it came to the first round of recovery funding, the 'Coast' was left high and dry in favour of Liberal 'pork barrelling'.

10 February 2023

ALAN HAYES

 

THE Auditor General found that then-Deputy Premier John Barilaro and his office directly intervened to fast-track 96 per cent of these funds to seats held by the Liberal or National Party.

 

During the Black Summer Bushfires, our community suffered $163.3 million in damage. In response, the NSW Government gave our community $0 in the first round of funding, except for one business, whose primary address is in Sydney. At the same time in the Nationals Party seat of Oxley, a skydiving adventure park received one of the largest bushfire recovery grants. The sky diving project received $11 million – $3.5 million more than the local council had requested.

 

Snives Hives, in St Ives on Sydney’s north shore, received funding of $194,000 in the first round to establish a ‘Meadery’ to make and wholesale honey wine. This is confirmed through various emails, obtained through Freedom of Information between Member for Terrigal, Adam Crouch’s staffer Ben Sheath and then Barilaro’s staffer Nick Chapman.

 

The Grapevine spoke with the proprietor of Snives Hives, who confirmed that they have a honey bottling facility at Somersby and a honey extraction facility in Gosford. They also confirmed that the construction of the Meadery at Somersby is underway.

 

Wildlife Walkabout Park, which is just down the road from Snives Hives Somersby facility, applied for a grant of $10,000 and received not a ‘red cent’.

 

Wildlife Walkabout Park was impacted by the Black Summer Bushfires and Snives Hives was not.

 

Tassan Bernard of Wildlife Walkabout Park said, “We had to evacuate 250 animals and maintain and feed them for five weeks.”

 

“Our gates were closed for five weeks, so there was no income,” she said.

 

“Depending on what the weather was doing, the Rural Fire Service was telling us the fire is likely to hit you tomorrow.”

 

So, why didn’t they qualify for the BLER funding?

 

“We met all the eligibility requirements but weren’t in the right postcode,” Ms Bernard said.

 

Snives Hives post code for their primary business address is in ‘Blue Ribbon’ Liberal territory but 2250 on the Central Coast is the Labor seat of Gosford.

 

In February 2021 local ABC Radio was wanting an interview with Adam Crouch about the BLER funding but Adam Crouch declined to be interviewed.

 

An email, dated 10 February 2021, from Crouch’s staffer Ben Seath to Barilaro’s staffer Nick Chapman, in relation to BLER funding for the Central Coast and the ABC interview request, said “I hate the ABC, so no rush. But definitely will need to give them a couple of quotes given they requested an interview and Adam Crouch is declining it.

 

The following quote was provided to the ABC: “To date, Central Coast Council has received $200,000 from the NSW Government’s Bushfire Local Economic Recovery Fund.”

 

So, why did Adam Crouch decline the ABC interview? It was perfect opportunity to puff out his chest and crow about the $194,000 to Snives Hives. Was it because the BLER grants were for bushfire recovery and not for the construction of a Meadery?

 

These facts are not a surprise to the many Central Coast families and business owners who were devastated by flames but received nothing from the Government responsible for their recovery.

 

When the Member for Gosford Liesl Tesch raised this issue with the Premier in Question Time, she was thrown out of Parliament for asking why our community was left high and dry by the NSW Government in the first round of funding.

 

John Barilaro, Dominic Perrottet and the NSW Liberal-National Cabinet’s willingness to tick off a scheme that left our community high and dry, after one of the most devastating events in our history, was shameful.

 

After all this time some of our rural communities still haven’t fully recovered. Instead of rebuilding from the rubble, some of our residents were forced to simply pack up and leave.

 

Liesl Tesch said, “When our community needed support, the NSW Liberal-National Government turned its back on our community.”

 

“This March, this same Government is asking for our community’s support for their re-election and another four years of empty promises and rorts,” she said.

 

Shadow Minister for the Central Coast, David Harris said that a Minns’ Labor Labor Government will overhaul the grants process to restore integrity and public faith, placing pork-barrelling protections in the law and routinely auditing disaster relief payments following the latest grants scandal.

 

This approach is in line with Recommendation 1 of the ICAC Report, ‘Investigation into Pork Barrelling’ in NSW. The Government have refused to adopt this approach, instead publishing a Premier’s memorandum.

 

David Harris said “NSW Labor will bring in stronger laws to ensure the integrity of disaster funding.

 

“One would have thought that disaster recovery funding wouldn’t be politicised but unfortunately under this government nothing is off limits when it comes to pork barrelling.”

 

Member for Gosford, Liesl Tesch said “It’s very disappointing that we need to legislate to ensure that our leaders distribute money so that the negligent mismanagement of public funds will not occur in the future.

 

“Our community has had a gutful of the NSW Liberal Government’s disgraceful practice of giving millions away in taxpayer money to their pet projects at the expense of our community.”

 

“This Liberal Government is addicted to pork barrelling, leaving communities like ours without access to crucial government funds, including bushfire relief funds,” Member for Swansea, Yasmin Catley said.

 

The Labor candidate for Terrigal, Sam Boughton, was almost lost for words when he found out that that the Central Coast got $0 in the first round of funding, considering how hard our community was hit by the bushfires.

 

“This was a new low in NSW politics,” he said.

 

In the second round of funding seven Central Coast businesses did receive BLER funding totalling more than $5.3 million. Liesl Tesch some recovery projects, such as burnt-down toilet block at Mangrove Mountain, received money from Central Coast Council.

 

It's curious that after the Member for Gosford, Liesl Tesch, was thrown out of parliament for asking questions about why the Central Coast was left out of the first round of BLER funding, the boxes were ticked for the second round.

 

The question still needs to be answered by Adam Crouch - "why did you decline the ABC interview about the first round of funding?" And why "was Wildlife Walkabout Park left high and dry?"

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