Wagga MP Joe McGirr says it is no coincidence the NSW government has announced a review of its processes for awarding grants just days after an anti-corruption inquiry applied intense scrutiny to millions of dollars handed to the city.
The Independent Commission Against Corruption spent more than two weeks questioning senior public servants and current and former NSW ministers on behind-the-scenes discussions for approving $35.5 million for Wagga institutions before and during the 2018 byelection.
Intercepted phone calls revealed then Premier Gladys Berejiklian saying she would "throw money at Wagga" and "overrule" bureaucrats who opposed major projects, such as a new stadium for the city.
Premier Dominic Perrottet on Wednesday announced there would be a review of grant procedures to ensure fairness and probity. "Taxpayers expect the distribution of funds will be fair, I share that expectation," he said.
"Every dollar from NSW taxpayers is important. I am committed to making sure grant programs are fair, robust and follow best practice when those dollars are put to work in the community."
Dr McGirr said Mr Perrottet appeared to be "distancing himself from his predecessor and the previous deputy premier".
"Of course, making sure that grants administration is as fair as possible is really important," he said.
Dr McGirr said from what he heard at ICAC, bureaucrats were "pretty strong" in advocating for sensible use of taxpayer funds.
"I hope that this review covers the politicians and their roles and issues around conflicts of interest and making sure they are aware of them," Dr McGirr said.
"It won't mean anything if we don't cover that."
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Dr McGirr said ministers should still have discretion in their decisions and the review should find a balance between bureaucrats and elected leaders when it came to grants.
"You can't leave government up to the bureaucracy; bureaucrats are not elected, they are the machinery of government, it's the people who are elected that make the decisions," he said. "Bureaucrats don't always get decisions right, they are not on the ground in the communities."
NSW Labor Opposition Leader Chris Minns said he was concerned by Deputy Premier Paul Toole's comments that ICAC would not be consulted.
"The growing culture of pork-barrelling by this Liberal-National government must be broken," Mr Minns said.
"Projects and investment should always be funded based on need and merit and where growth is, not on political motivation."
The review's final report is due by April.
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