Leaked Coalition brief details ‘pork barrel defence’

Joseph Brookes
Senior Reporter

Communications minister Paul Fletcher’s office circulated talking points to Coalition figures preparing them for accusations of pork barreling ahead of the announcement of a $28.2 million in grants to fix mobile blackspots on Thursday.

The $28.2 million announcement, which includes just $11.8 million in new money, will provide more grants to mobile network operators like Telstra, Optus and Vodafone to improve mobile reception in outer urban areas.

The leaked talking points from the minister’s office include pre-written responses on anticipated questions of whether the announcement is “an election bribe and another example of pork barrelling” and appear to have reached the Prime Minister who mounted the recommended defence later in the day.

An official announcement was released by the Prime Minister, Mr Fletcher, the Minister for Regional Communication Bridgette McKenzie and Terry Young, the Liberal National Party member for Longman, where three of the funded projects are.

It said the $28.2 million had been awarded through grants to 66 projects after a competitive assessment process, and would address blackspots across the country in conjunction with the government’s $78.5 million Connecting Regional Australia initiative.

Behind closed doors the Coalition had prepared for more accusations of pork barreling which have dogged the Morrison government after the ‘sports rorts’ and ‘car park rorts’ scandals.

A leaked internal document shows responses had been prepared for questions like “is this an election bribe and another example of pork barreling?”, “who decided where towers should go and on what basis?” and “how many of the 66 projects are in Coalition seats?”

The document directs government MPs to mention a “competitive assessment” process undertaken by the Communications department against a 110 point criteria.

The department’s recommendations were not overruled by the minister, according to the document.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison appears to have utilised one of the prepared defences at a press conference when asked about a flood of funding announcement since last month’s budget.

He noted, as recommended in the leaked document, that the projects funded under the mobile coverage improvement grants sat across Labor and Coalition electorates.

“More than half of the seats that benefited from that program were Labor seats, not Coalition seats,” Mr Morison said.

“The majority were actually Labor seats. So I just don’t, I just don’t buy it [accusations of pork barreling].”

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