Chris Minns calls for John Barilaro to be referred to ICAC over bushfire grants

| 03.02,23. 04:44 PM |

Chris Minns calls for John Barilaro to be referred to ICAC over bushfire grants

Composite image of Chris Minns and John Barilaro
Chris Minns says he will consider referring former deputy premier John Barilaro to the ICAC.(ABC News)

The NSW opposition leader has called for the former deputy premier John Barilaro to be referred to the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) after a report from the auditor-general criticised the administration of the Bushfire Local Economic Recovery Program.

Chris Minns said the process for delivering disaster recovery funds should be politically blind.

"I think it's a basic fact of life in Australia that if you're in a disaster zone and you need help from your government, you'll get it and no-one will check which party you voted for before the funds arrive," he said.

The report into the distribution of recovery grants after the 2019-2020 bushfires found several Labor-held electorates missed out on first-round funding.

It also called out issues with threshold caps ordered by the then deputy premier John Barilaro and conflicts of interest with the accelerated scheme.

A woman standing in a red shirt in burnt bush with a woman in a wheelchair.
Jodi McKay and Liesl Tesch inspect damage after the Gospers Mountain bushfire. (Supplied: Liesl Tesch)

Lack of transparency

Gosford Labor MP Liesl Tesch said her electorate received no funding in the first round of the program despite suffering $163 million in damage in the fires.

"People left the electorate because they were screaming out for help but there was no money there for us to help," she said.

"In the second round we got funding but I had to kick and scream to draw their attention."

Tenterfield mayor Bronwyn Petrie said she was grateful for the funding her region received but called for assurance her community was not disadvantaged because of her electorate.

A woman holds a young goat wearing a jacket.
Bronwyn Petrie was personally affected by the bushfires.(ABC North Coast)

"It is concerning that a shire as heavily impacted as ours has received considerably less funding than other shires that had suffered similar or indeed less impact than we did," Cr Petrie said.

South Coast Independent MP Justin Field said he recognised a need to get money out the door quickly but criticised a lack of integrity in the system.

a man wearing glasses standing outdoors smiling
Justin Field says the government needs to be more transparent about grant processes.(Supplied: Justin Field)

"It seems like John Barilaro's office intervened without appropriate checks and balances," Mr Field said.

Mr Field echoed the calls for clearer guidelines when it came to recovery funding.

"If we don't have a system like that we're going to see future governments tempted to politicise this type of funding," he said.

Regions rely on pork barrelling

But Clarence MP Chris Gulaptis said regional NSW would get "jack all" if it wasn't for pork barrelling.

"We don't have the line items like Sydney has, like WestConnex ... and stadiums," Mr Gulaptis said.

"I'm thrilled we have got a pork barrel that we can actually deliver projects for regional NSW."

A man in high vis with a shovel.
Chris Gulaptis says pork barrelling helps regional NSW attract funding.(ABC News: Bruce Mackenzie)

Deputy premier 'unaware'

Deputy Premier Paul Toole, who is also the minister for regional NSW, said he was not aware of what went on in his predecessor's office.

"I am unaware of what happened in Mr Barilaro's office at that time, it's a question you'd have to ask him," he said.

He said while some councils did not not receive funding in the first, fast-tracked round of the fund, they did receive it in subsequent rounds.

"When you have a look at the Blue Mountains it received $9.8 million for eight projects ... Tenterfield received $6.9 million for three projects," Mr Toole said.

A fire truck and firefighters in front of burning bushland.
Fire crews work to contain a bushfire at Tenterfield.(Supplied: Fire and Rescue Glen Innes)

He said there had been a number of changes made to the way grants were provided in NSW since he took on the role to ensure greater transparency.

He was asked whether or not Mr Barilaro should be referred to ICAC.

"That's a matter for ICAC, I'm not going to stand here and say who should and should not be referring on."

The ABC is seeking comment from Mr Barilaro.

(Votes: 0)

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