Labor had criticised reported prioritisation of funding for Coalition-held seats over others with greater need.
The New South Wales transport minister, Andrew Constance, has dismissed claims the government prioritised Liberal-held seats in a program designed to improve disabled access to train stations as “outrageous” and “stupid”.
The government has faced criticism over alleged “pork barrelling” in a series of funds in recent months, including its $177m bushfire recovery fund and the $242m Stronger Communities fund. On Thursday the the Daily Telegraph reported that a 2019 auditor general’s report showed that funds from the government’s Transport Access program – which funded accessibility upgrades including lifts and car parks at train stations across the state – had prioritised funding for some government-held seats over others with higher need.
For example, the program has delivered some $9m in funding for a new lift at the Hawkesbury River station in the Liberal seat of Hornsby despite significantly lower patronage than other Labor-held seats. While Hawkesbury River, which is in the seat of the environment minister, Matt Kean, recorded a patronage of 2,892 passengers a week, other Labor-held seats such as Doonside and Macquarie Fields with higher patronage – 24,716 and 10,598 respectively – missed out on the funding.
Doonside is not scheduled to have a lift installed until 2023, while Macquarie Fields station has not had funding allocated.
Labor slammed the decisions, with the shadow transport minister, Chris Minns, saying it was another example of the government engaging in so-called “pork barrelling”. “Even money used for wheelchair access is used by the NSW Liberals to pork barrel in their own seats,” he said. “Something as basic as the ability to access public transport should be above party politics. It should be based on need.”
The final allocation of funding for the program shows train stations in Labor-held seats received 41% of the funding while Liberal-held seats received 46%. The rest went to seats held by the Greens or independent MPs. On Thursday, Constance said that allocation – and the fact the Coalition holds more seats than Labor – showed the accusation of pork barrelling was “outrageous”. “It’s not as if they’re only getting 2% of the funding and we’re getting 98%,” he said. “What the hell are they on about? It’s an outrageous, stupid claim. That is not pork barrelling, that is absolutely the right and sensible thing for us to be doing across the rail network.” Constance also defended the decision to prioritise funding for Hawkesbury station, saying the government had “bundled” upgrades for smaller stations in with larger projects. But the government is likely to face increasing pressure over its allocation of funding after the state parliament’s upper house voted to force the presentation of documents related to its controversial $177m bushfire recovery fund. The fund has become the focus of a parliamentary inquiry into the delivery of council grants after it emerged that some councils in Labor-held electorates missed out on funding despite suffering millions worth of bushfire damage. Earlier this month the NSW deputy premier, John Barilaro, defended the allocation of funding, saying councils in Labor-held seats including the Blue Mountains had not been eligible because they were not of sufficient size or readiness. But Greens MP David Shoebridge, who is chairing the inquiry, said the parliament’s decision to force the production of documents related to the fund would “test” that claim.