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MPs call on parliament to end grant pork barrelling

Independent MP Helen Haines is pushing for stricter reporting regulations and grant criteria in an attempt to end pork barrelling.


Helen Haines and Liberal member for Bass Bridget Archer at a press conference at Parliament House in Canberra. Image AAP

Grant decisions by politicians could come under greater scrutiny as part of a push to end pork barrelling.


Independent MP Helen Haines on Monday introduced a motion to parliament during private member's business, with the support of outspoken Liberal Bridget Archer. 


"Too often, funding goes where the need for votes is greatest," she told parliament.


"It's not fair, it's not right, it's terrible governance and the voters agree with me." 


An Australia Institute poll from late October found four out of five respondents believed allocating public money for projects in marginal seats to win votes constituted corrupt conduct.


But the current system still allows ministers to award grants without merit and against departmental advice, Ms Haines said.


Her motion calls on the government to legislate the way grants are administered to establish clear criteria, improve oversight through a joint committee and require ministers to report to parliament if they go against official advice.


"Sunlight is a very, very powerful disinfectant and a very powerful motivator," she said.


"If the minister has to report to the parliament in front of everyone about why he or she made the decision that they did, public scrutiny is there."


The two MPs said the practice of funnelling government spending into advantageous electorates - generally ahead of an election - did not help either safe or marginal seats, with many promised projects left unfinished.


"There's no benefit to anybody in this type of grants allocation," Ms Archer said.


"It's bad for public trust and confidence, but it's bad for elected representatives as well."


Centre for Public Integrity director Geoffrey Watson said pork barrelling was a feature of both major parties and all politicians needed clear guidelines.


"We are not saying for one moment that ministers should not have an ultimate discretion," he told reporters on Monday.


"We are only saying that they should be guided as to how they exercise that discretion, and they should be accountable for when they misuse that discretion."


Labor pledged at the 2022 election to take action on pork barrelling.


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