24 March 2021

Prof Anne Twomey: “The sports rorts affair was quickly followed by another controversy: the funding of the Safer Communities Program. … These two programs don’t even scratch the surface of the massive government expenditure on discretionary programs with unimaginative (but suitably vague) titles such as … ‘building better regions’. Both sides of politics, when in government, use these programs to favour their supporters and influence voters, particularly in marginal seats, with scant regard to public need, fairness or responsible expenditure. Every time another government rort is exposed, the response is always that the action was ‘entirely within the rules’. But what actually are ‘the rules’ and does anyone ever enforce them? … While legal proceedings can be brought to challenge the constitutional validity of the grants or the validity of the decisions under administrative law, it is generally not in the interests of those who could bring such proceedings to do so. All aggrieved grant applicants want the opportunity to get a grant in the future. Ultimately, this means ministers can breach the rules and get away with it, undermining the rule of law and public confidence in governments. … [T]he rules cannot, in practice, be enforced against them, because they do their best to make sure this is the case.” (In the article, Twomey explains how each of the different “rules” systems fails.)