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The Legality of Pork Barrelling

Updated: Jul 22

Pork barrelling is the practice of diverting taxpayer dollars to projects primarily in order to garner support from the public. In more serious cases, it can be argued that the practise is also used to vindictively withhold taxpayer dollars from certain areas in order to punish them for not voting for the appointed party.

An image of a pig inside of a wooden barrell, foregrounded by the text "Pork Barrellin"

Legal Experts on Legality Pork Barrelling

Former supreme court judge, assistant ICAC commissioner and Chair of the Centre for Public Integrity, Anthony Whealy QC, wrote an opinion article in May of 2022 titled "Pork barrel politics isn’t just about integrity; it is corrupt."


Mr. Whealy's article was in response to a more recent article by the Australian Financial Review which discussed a federal corruption commission and its potential focuses. According to Mr. Whealy, the 'thrust' of the article was "an attempt to draw a distinction between a mere failure of political integrity and, by contrast, genuine corruption," in the context of pork barrelling.


Mr. Whealy stated in his article:

"Rightly, the community judgement, and that of senior academics and lawyers, is that the deliberate misuse of large amounts of public money for political gain is seriously corrupt. To label it as mere “pork barrelling” is a misleading misnomer. This label trivialises serious wrongdoing, even where such conduct may not constitute a criminal offence. To suggest that seriously corrupt behaviour of this kind is merely a lack of political integrity, and should attract no more than a political penalty, is, with respect, dangerous to probity.

Mr. Whealy's views are echoed by Geoffrey Watson SC who has also argued that the term pork barrelling trivialises the seriousness of the conduct:

“It’s not pork-barrelling when you are using tens of millions of public money for political ends. It’s actually a misuse of public money and in some circumstances it can be corrupt conduct.”

Politicians' On Legality of Pork Barrelling

Former NSW Premier, Gladys Berejiklian, has been quoted stating that pork barrelling is "not an illegal practice.”


Former Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, in response to media questions regarding the federal politicians representing seats where pork barrelling has been alleged, Mr. Morrison asked: “No one is suggesting anyone has broken any law are they?”

Sources & Further Reading

https://www.afr.com/policy/economy/pork-barrel-politics-isn-t-just-about-integrity-it-is-corrupt-20220501-p5ahkc


https://www.afr.com/politics/federal/federal-watchdog-should-target-genuine-corruption-20220425-p5afst


https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2022/jun/01/pork-barrelling-should-be-banned-and-grant-process-overhauled-report-for-icac-says


https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2022/may/07/nsw-grants-review-recommends-against-making-pork-barrelling-a-criminal-offence


https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2022/feb/08/nsw-auditor-general-lashes-program-that-directed-96-of-grants-to-coalition-electorates

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