State Member for the Electorate of Cessnock, Clayton Barr MP is calling for NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro and the then-Minister for Arts Don Harwin to answer why they blatantly ignored expert recommendations and pork-barrelled $44 million in arts funding into Coalition electorates.
Prior to the 2019 state election Barilaro and Harwin announced $47 million worth of regional infrastructure grants to arts and cultural organisations.
Out of the almost $50 million in funding, only $4,000 went to projects in Labor electorates.
Mr Barr said “This is pork-barrelling at its absolute political worst”
A total of 56 projects were funded in 23 electorates of which 20 were held by the coalition.
“In the lead up to the election we’ve got the Government using almost $50 million of taxpayer funds, it’s not the Government’s money, it doesn’t belong to the Liberal or National Party, it belongs to the community. “ said Mr Barr
Part of the process was a six person expert team (Regional Cultural Fund assessors) to assess and rank the more than 150 applications received. The panel was made up of 4 independent members from the state’s arts sector, 1 executive from the State Government agency Create NSW and 1 representative from the Department of Premier and Cabinet.
Documents obtained under freedom of information laws revealed the advice of the expert team was largely ignored and instead all but $3 million was spent on projects in Coalitions seats.
“What was the point of putting a process in place when they simply ignore the rules? It’s laughable quite frankly” said Mr Barr.
Cessnock Performing Arts Centre (CPAC) sought $118,700 to convert its lighting to a more energy efficient LED system- assessors ranked this project extremely high. According to the documents, the project was ranked 13th out of a possible 159 applications however the council-owned venue received no funding.
“It was a fairly modest application, LED lighting drives down costs, it’s better for our climate and councils are operating on pretty thin budgets” said Mr Barr.
“This project would have been of great benefit for the local community as many local organisations and groups use the Performing Arts Centre and it has become a cultural hub for the entire community.”
Mr Barilaro said “projects were all funded based on merit and the [grants] are designed where the discretion is left with the Minister.”
Mr Barr said “How Mr Barilaro could say this with a straight face is unbelievable as at least 8 of the projects approved were not even recommended for funding or did not even meet the criteria.”
Mr Barr expressed his disappointment regarding the snub of Cessnock Performing Arts Centre. “The process of filling out the applications, pulling together information and quotes is not easy and to have a worthy project not funded because of shameless pork barrelling is disgraceful.”
Former Arts Minister, Mr Harwin has referred all questions to Premier Gladys Berejiklian who assumed the role of Arts Minister after he resigned from the ministry in April.