The rich political history between Howard, the Nats and Tony Windsor

Tony Windsor’s riposte to John Howard’s allegation that he betrayed his voters by supporting a Labor government relates some of the rich political history of the country seat. There’s more, so today we republish two fascinating pieces by Webdiarist Craig Rowley, part one after the 2004 election and part two prior to 2007 election. At that time the Howard Government was fingered for regional grants rorts, and Tony Windsor told Parliament that National Party leader John Anderson and a NP Senator had offered him a bribe to leave politics.

One irony in Tony Abbott’s ‘trust‘ mantra is that Gillard’s government has been clean and Howard’s government was sometimes dirty.

I would like to follow the battle for New England , and hope NE tweeps will keep us informed in @NoFibs.


By Craig Rowley
First published: 2004

Desperate slaves: The Nationals, the Coalition and the pork-barrel system

Pork-barrel: n. Slang. A government project or appropriation that yields jobs or other benefits to a specific region and patronage opportunities to its political representative.

‘Pork-barrel’ has always been a derogatory term. First used in print by E.K. Hale for his story called“Pork Barrel” published in 1865 by Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper. It comes from the plantation practice of distributing rations of salt pork to slaves from wooden barrels:

When plantation owners rolled out a barrel of salt pork into the slave quarters the desperate slaves engaged in a feeding frenzy to get the best pieces. It was a form of entertainment for heartless slavelords and their guests.

It became a common saying in 19th century politics. By 1890, the New York Times was comfortable in using “pork” in a headline knowing its readers would understand that it describes government spending intended to enrich the constituents of a particular politician in return for their political support, either in the form of campaign contributions or votes.

Regular Webdiarists are certainly familiar with the term. We’ve had a far bit of conversation on pork-barrels since last Spring.

From John Anderson to Mark Vaile. From Regional Rorts to AWB.

From John Anderson to Mark Vaile. From Regional Rorts to AWB.

Come Election Time: Background to the Regional Rorts Scheme

As far as I can determine, the first mention of pork-barrelling on Webdiary was made in the lead up to the election. After reading about the Howard team stifling dissent (leaning on a skywriter to stop him writing Not Happy, John! in the Brisbane sky) an exasperated Janine Smith wrote:

I’m sick of hearing about ‘the Government’s surplus’ – it does NOT belong to the government. It belongs to the people and should be used for the people – not handed out from a pork barrel come election time! In truth there should be no huge surplus as it should have been going to our hospitals, education etc long before any polling date was announced. (September 27, 2004 10:41 AM)

The election was held and, despite Janine’s passionate post, the Coalition was returned on a raft of promises that would see our surplus splurged on pet projects amongst other things. Some Webdiarists turned to soul searching, others to licking their wounds, and some took the opportunity to rub salt into those wounds.

In November, after a well-deserved break, Margo Kingston returned to Webdiary and 
: “A slow first sitting day of the 41st Parliament ended with a bang just before 8pm.” It caught my attention.

Tony Windsor, the independent MP for the NSW federal seat of New England (formerly a safe National Party seat), had alleged during the election campaign (before Janine had mentioned the old pork-barrel) that an attempt had been made to bribe him with a government post if he didn’t stand for re-election. Until that first Parliamentary sitting day Mr Windsor had not named names.

On that evening, under the protection of Parliamentary Privilege he did. He named Tamworth businessman Greg Maguire as a messenger for Deputy Prime Minister John Anderson and NSW National Party Senator Sandy McDonald.

The reaction of John Anderson to “the Member for New England’s allegations of improper inducements offered indirectly by Senator Macdonald and me earlier this year” intrigued me. Although it is not my profession now, I originally trained as a psychologist. To my mind Anderson’s body language, and his facial expressions, betrayed discomfort, to say the least.

In his Parliamentary statement Mr Anderson appeared to dissemble. I thought at the time ‘there was more to this than meets the eye’ and kept a close eye on the unfolding story.

The Barrel: The Regional Partnership Program

The first Webdiary post mentioning “pork barrelling” in connection with the Regional Partnerships program came from David Markham on November 19, 2004. David, a former resident of New England, felt that one of the most troubling aspects of the Windsor bribe affair was that John Anderson implied that the equine centre in Tamworth would be funded only if it advantaged the National Party. David asked:

What sort of basis is that for the spending of public funds? This sort of pork barrelling rationale, while in line with traditional National principles, shows why many residents of the bush think that the Nats are on the nose.

Typically, a pork-barrel involves funding for government programs where the economic or service benefits are concentrated on the patronised constituency but the costs are spread among all taxpayers. When a government rolls out the pork barrel it is funding something that benefits a particular district, whose legislator thereby wins favour with local voters. Hence the great importance placed by political leaders on “getting credit”.

The Regional Partnerships program is something Deputy Prime Minister Mr Anderson has long defended, insisting it’s there to support rural Australia. He is on the record about the importance of getting credit for projects funded under the program (more on that later).

On 2 December 2004, the Senate referred the matters listed below to the Finance and Public Administration References Committee for inquiry, despite protestations from Coalition MPs and their supporters:

1) The administration of the Regional Partnerships program and the Sustainable Regions program, with particular reference to the process by which projects are proposed, considered and approved for funding, including:

(a) decisions to fund or not to fund particular projects;

(b) the recommendations of area consultative committees;

(c) the recommendations of departmental officers and recommendations from any other sources including from other agencies or other levels of government;

(d) the nature and extent of the respective roles of the administering department, minister and parliamentary secretary, other ministers and parliamentary secretaries, other senators or members and their advisers and staff in the process of selection of successful applications;

(e) the criteria used to take the decision to fund projects;

(f) the transparency and accountability of the process and outcomes;

(g) the mechanism for authorising the funding of projects;

(h) the constitutionality, legality and propriety of any practices whereby any members of either House of Parliament are excluded from committees, boards or other bodies involved in the consideration of proposed projects, or coerced or threatened in an effort to prevent them from freely communicating with their constituents; and

(i) whether the operation of the program is consistent with the
Auditor-General’s ˜Better Practice Guide for the Administration of Grants”, and is subject to sufficient independent audit.

(2) With respect to the future administration of similar programs, any safeguards or guidelines which might be put in place to ensure proper accountability for the expenditure of public money, particularly the appropriate arrangements for independent audit of the funding of projects.

(3) Any related matters.

The first days of that inquiry are reported here and here. Webdiary’s Regional Rorts archive is here (AFHP note – this archive has been deleted by Fairfax).

Whilst the Senate Committee is not expected to report until mid-August 2005, it has to date uncovered many questionable activities associated with what we’ve dubbed ‘Regional Rorts’ (which is only fair considering the ‘Sports Rorts’ of a decade ago). As Democrats Senator Murray says, “Media commentary has described many regional partnership projects as just pork barrelling. Evidence up here in North Queensland indicates the pork has gone sour.”

Perhaps it should be labelled the ‘Sour Pork Rort’.

The Sour Pork: A marginal feast

I’m sure my local butcher could recommend an extensive range of dishes featuring tasty pork. The Senate Committee has racked up a plethora of sour pork – enough to gorge yourself silly in a marginal feast. Plenty of promising portions to dish out prior to the national poll.
Dish 1, a la carte, OK, but it’s not quite right anyway – The Australian Equine and Livestock Centre in Tamworth NSW (New England seat held by independent Tony Windsor)- price $6 million

The first funding decision to be questioned was the $6 million announced for the Australian Equine and Livestock Centre in Tamworth. It was a project that had long been championed by Tony Windsor’s former friend and big man of business in New England – Greg Maguire.

On November 19, Emma Brooks Maher told Webdiarists that:

In my opinion, the key to the [Windsor bribe] story is the Equine Centre (pet project of Greg Maguire), who was supposed to be getting electoral credit pre-election.

It was alleged that the funding was made contingent on Windsor’s removal from any further involvement in the project.

In 2002, John Anderson had decided not to fund the equine centre proposal.

Anderson had arranged for Professor John Chudleigh to look into the project. Chudleigh expressed major concerns about its viability and recommended that the Federal Government not provide financial support for what was then called ‘the Longyard project’. John Anderson said he had reviewed Professor Chudleigh’s report and accepted its findings. He even put out a media release to that effect.

Then in 2004, Anderson approved funding for the equine centre and it became central to the Windsor bribe allegations. In his statement to Parliament on November 8, Mr Windsor had given us a sniff of what it was all about:

Mr Anderson said that if I tried to get any credit for the funding of the Equine and Livestock Centre that the funding would not take place. Mr Anderson was also concerned about my continued association with the Australian Equine and Livestock Centre given my political position.

There is, of course, more to the Tamworth equine centre story. It is also a story about the enmity between two men – John Anderson and Tony Windsor – and between The Nationals and country independents more generally. Again, more on that later, but if you can’t wait for the juice read this. First there are more choice cuts of pork to talk about.

Dish 2, the benefits of A2 milk (almost) brought to you by north Queensland firm, A2 Dairy Marketers Pty Ltd – price $1.27 million

This was the grant that exposed questions about the competence of De-Anne Kelly. Labor’s Julia Gillard told the ABC’s PM that this grant had “apparently been made in circumstances where the then parliamentary secretary, Ms Kelly, authorised the grant while she had in her employ a Mr Ken Crooke who at the same time was working as a director of a private company and being paid to lobby on behalf of A2 Milk Marketers”.

The grant was later rescinded after a court found A2 guilty of misleading advertising – those crooks! A2 Dairy Marketers Pty Ltd subsequently went into liquidation.

On December 9, the Prime Minister admitted De-Anne Kelly had breached the rules of ministerial conduct in her employment of a staff member with a potential conflict of interest. However, John Howard refused an Opposition demand that she be sacked. Instead she was ‘rebuked’.

The SMH editorial said the PM’s decision was a joke. I’m still not laughing and I’m still wondering how Mrs Kelly got away with hiring a man from a company of crooks.

Dish 3, a fishy scheme to dredge Tumbi Creek in the then marginal Liberal NSW seat of Dobell – price $1.5 million

In February the focus turned to Jim Lloyd (federal Minister for Local Government, Territories and Roads) finding himself “up Tumbi Creek and in desperate need of a paddle” as reported by the SMH.

Spending $1.5 million opening up Tumbi Creek so fishermen could get their tinnies in and out of Lake Tuggerah was the aim of this ‘worthy’ project. Or was it?

Do you remember? I know yesterday’s news is used to wrap your fish ‘n chips but you must remember.

On August 26, just three days before he called the October poll, the Prime Minister himself was on hand at Tumbi Creek to help Ken Ticehurst, the local Liberal member, announce the good news. Before the election, Mr Ticehurst held the seat of Dobell with a margin of just 0.4 of 1 per cent.

Dish 4, a lifeline for the near broke (or insolvent depending on which way you lean) Beaudesert Rail Association in the Liberal Queensland seat of Forde – price $660,000

With the Government under fire over the creek that wouldn’t flow Michael Brissenden from the 7.30 Report got stuck in to the ‘very worthy’ Beaudesert Rail project. It opened a question about how far back the rorting went – after all since Forde elected a Liberal this little railway had chewed up something like $5.7 million of taxpayers’ money.
Pudding, don’t worry it only smells like pork – special price $30,000, which pays for staff accreditation at a long day care centre in the Deputy Prime Minister’s electorate

Better be quick though as only one such grant was approved and it is only available in Bourke. One other catch – the $30,000 odd was used mainly to hire a temporary, untrained staff member so the “existing staff could study for their accreditation”.

Hang on, you’re in luck (well some of you anyway). We’ve just had a call from our suppliers and there are 11 other child-care centres, nine in Government-held seats, with Regional Partnerships grants.
If the range so far isn’t sufficiently eye-opening, try a smorgasbord of porcine political pay-offs and pay-backs, price anything up to $60 million

For example, you could enjoy SeaWind’s rusty knifed fish as you relax in our new poker-machine lounge.

It’s a lucky country and if you are fortunate enough to have voted wisely you could even get what Margo called the “cash-for-tits” grant.

Don’t hold your breath though. It seems that just like with My Restaurant Rules and Rove’s variationMy Restaurant Sucks, there are some winners and many losers.

Desperate Slaves: The Liberals/Nationals bond

The interests represented by the Nationals are best identified by its former (former) name, the Country Party. As with Australia’ss other major political parties, the Country Party grew out of a sectional pressure group.

In days now long gone it could be simply said that Labor represented workers; Liberals represented big business; and the Country party represented farmers.

Under various guises the Nationals have by any standard been very successful at defending rural interests. Continuous representation of rural interests since 1920 is no mean feat. The coalition with the Liberals has meant that the Nationals could restrict their electoral efforts to rural seats where they had very good chances of success.

The Nationals really have very few ideological pretensions. They stress the moral worth of rural life and sing the praises of farmers as the unappreciated backbone of the nation, but this hardly constitutes systemic ideology. Whilst the Nationals say they are avowedly anti-socialist and pro-capitalist, it does not appear to be very clear what they mean by this.

There is some truth to the jibe that the Nationals aim to capitalise farmer’s gains and socialise their loses.

I think the Liberals realise this and secretly despise it. They could never be openly critical of the Nationals, at least whilst it is useful to be in coalition.

But with what you’ve read so far, you would have to wonder, as Mike Seccombe in the SMH did, whether Howard’s work was spoilt by his deputy’s pork.

It would be much easier for the Liberals to harness the votes of Independents by dangling the pork or to win the Nationals seats in their own right.

Besides, as Seccombe points out some 4500 other child-care centres got no Regional Partnerships funding:

No one in government told them they could obtain it. The Government sees nothing anomalous about this. Said Anderson’s press secretary, Paul Chamberlin: ‘You don’t apply, you don’t get.’

Guess Mr Anderson will want some more money from Treasury. Got to keep that barrel well stocked considering the number of applications from child-care centres should be in the mail. Peter, what can you do for us? Nick’s playing hardball.

So, we’ll look closely at this year’s Budget and see exactly where that surplus goes. We won’t argue about the obvious need for more accredited child-care centres. We also need a few road, rail and port facilities upgraded. Most of all we need to secure our water future.

I’ll be thinking about the “worthy” projects canvassed above. And it seems that everybody wants tax cuts so they can exercise choice and spend spend spend because deep down they don’t agree with government spending priorities.

The Senate Committee will report in mid-August. An audit by the Australian National Audit Office is possible some time after that. Whatever the result some people will decide that pork-barrelling is the way it has to be. Some will not like it, but they’ll live with it. Some will love it, want more of it and relish the next chop thrown their way.

As for me, I’ll continue to speak out against such rorting and I’ll seek pork only from my local butcher shop. His prices are reasonable, and there’s no GST.

Mark Vaile resigns

From Regional Rorts to AWB: Mark Vaile resigns

Regional rorts: winning at any cost

Margo Intro

Hello. A long time ago, before the 1996 election which threw out Labor, former sports minister Ros Kelly went on the public record to blame me for her downfall. I was happy to take the rap. While the rest of the press gallery said ‘Who cares’ on the ground that Ros was a mate of Paul’s so she’d  be protected, I went for it in the Canberra Times under the inspiring editorship of Michelle Grattan.

I don’t care which government is in power, it’s imperative that public funding is made on merit, on need, and that it’s money well spent. Keeping government fair and honest is a core responsibility of political journalists, in my opinion.

PM Keating defended his mate Ros for months before she finally slit her own throat by admitting to a Parliamentary committee that she decided her sports grants on a whiteboard and that was why there was no paper trail.

I got to know Peter Costello at that time, as he made his name prosecuting the sports rorts scandal. Now he’s the treasurer in a government which pissed millions against a wall to buy votes, and made self-interested grants behaved even worse, including making grants without even an application form! Costello is sprung.

Trouble is, who do we vote for. Both are bad in office on this stuff. Real bad.

While writing Still Not happy, John! in August, I was led to believe that Rudd would put out an ‘honest politics policy” during the election campaign. So far, we’ve got an information policy statement in direct response to pressure from big media. Nothing else. How about the people, Kevin?

Now is the time, Kevin. Right now.
Webdiarist Craig Rowley followed this story closely from when it broke just after the 2004 election. The Senate set up a committee to look at it, and its report was damning. It led to the Auditor General investigation which has now exploded in this corrupt, nasty government’s face. No worries, Howard and Vaile say. The only way it can be no worries is if voters in safe seats make them marginal. Without a strong honest politics policy, the Australian people will get merit-based grants only if EVERY seat is marginal. The reward for big party loyalty is less than nothing.

Please, Webdiarists, remember that the Senate inquiry which triggered the Audit Office probe happened only because Howard had not yet gained control of the Senate. He did so on July 1, 2005, when the newly elected Senators took their seats. Since then, he and his compliant Liberal MPs have blocked everything that might get truth out on their corruption and shady practice. Let’s stop the rort – let’s take back control of our Senate by voting for minor parties.

Regional rorts: winning at any cost

by Craig Rowley
16 nov 2007

“Never forget the fact that governments are elected to govern for the people who voted for them, but also for the people who voted against them,”John Howard said on winning the 2004 Australian federal election. He promised to govern “for all of us.” It looks like that was another of “Honest” John’s “non-core promises”.

Three years ago the Tamworth-based Independent MP for the NSW electorate of New England, Tony Windsor, opened the lid on what smelt like a pork barrel when he spoke up about what he thought might be an attempt to bribe him. He triggered what Margo described as Ando’s sports rorts Armageddon. Webdiary’s citizen journalists covered the story, following each whiff of an accountability side-step, asking questions, and taking every opportunity afforded to citizens to make the most of what little transparency is left in our Commonwealth to check that inside the corridors of power there is not corruption.

My contributions to that effort were ‘Bigger than all of us’: our last chance to lift the regional rorts veil,Our last chance to know: Act 2 of regional rorts cover-upDesperate slaves: a pork-barrel regional rorts update and The greatest regional program ever?.

Those of us who were concerned that there may be corruption were attacked for looking into it and trying to discover the truth. We were accused of a “beat up” and told to shut up. As more evidence surfaced, we were then told that it’s not corruption even if it is pork-barrelling. The attacks didn’t deter us, certainly not me, but in the end it seemed it was apathy that won out.

When Webdiary published my last post on the regional rorts affair, The greatest regional program ever?, there were only 16 comments on the associated conversation thread, and half of those were my updates.

But being apathetic about a problem doesn’t make it go away. Yesterday, the Auditor General, Ian McPhee, released a 1,200 page report on the findings of an Australian National Audit Office performance audit of the Regional Partnerships Programme. As its content comes out and is absorbed by electoral communities across the country it could make things very uncomfortable for the far from relaxed Liberals leader, John Howard. Current Nationals leader, Mark Vaile, should not be able to skate around this either, as much as I imagine he’d like to shift blame back onto the former Deputy Prime Minister, John Anderson.

Michelle Grattan in The Age today, as always, tells it like it is:

The timing of yesterday’s audit report into this affair could not be more embarrassing. The findings could hardly be more damning. The report is an indictment of the Government’s shameless pork-barrelling in the Regional Partnership Program.

The ANAO found that the Howard government’s Regional Partnerships Program does not meet an acceptable standard of public administration. Howard and his Ministers, particularly John Anderson and other Nationals, had favoured schemes in Coalition held electorates. In distributing hundreds of millions of dollars in grants they governed in ways that rewarded some of us; whilst punishing others for what they’d decided in the poll booths at the previous election.

The Auditors concluded that the Regional Partnerships Programme is a very flexible discretionarygrants programme. It has broadly based assessment criteria, and projects are subject tocontinuous assessment rather than being considered through structured funding rounds. Funding decisions are taken by Ministers.

The Auditors highlighted two dimensions of the programme administration. First, they draw attention to the very flexible discretionary nature of application assessment and Ministerial approval processes, which they said creates challenges in ensuring transparent, accountable and cost effective administration and in demonstrating the equitable treatment of applicants. Then they emphasise that the manner in which the programme had been administered, which the ANAO found to have fallen short of an acceptable standard of public administration.

In other words, the Regional Partnerships Programme seems to have been one big barrel of pork available to dole out at the discretion of some of Howard’s Ministers, and it looks like they could bend even the few loose rules around it to make hand outs to whomever they chose and whenever it was in their party-political interests to do so.

Second, the ANAO analysis revealed that Howard’s Ministers were:

…more likely to approve funding for ‘not recommended’ projects that had been submitted by applicants in electorates held by the Liberal and National parties and more likely to not approve funding for ‘recommended’ projects that had been submitted by applicants in electorates held by the Labor party.

So it turns out that Howard’s Ministers could also decide to close the door on those who didn’t do as they had wished. There would be no funds from the pork barrel for those communities making the “error” of electing as their representative a politician sitting on the Opposition benches.

Politicians of all kinds wield considerable power. The stakes are high and temptations are great. They include the temptations to seize political power unfairly, to misuse it, to violate the public trust, and to profit at the public’s expense. Unfortunately, many politicians give in to these temptations. All the more so when they’ve been powerful for far too long and arrogance and hubris take hold. Arrogant politicians wilfully violate the code – written or unwritten – of political ethics. When they do, we all suffer.

Unethical political behaviour damages not just individuals but the whole society. Some of that damage is direct and obvious. That bribery, extortion, and vote fraud are wrong is something apparent to everyone. But there are other forms of unethical political behaviour that damage us in ways more subtle. Ultimately, all such behaviour damages the fabric of democracy itself. It prevents our democracy from functioning as it was designed to function, in the interests of all citizens.

Howard, Vaile and the Coalition’s spin-doctors want to avoid deep questioning of the ethics of what they have done with the Regional Partnerships Program. The argument they have already started using is that Regional Partnerships Programme funding decisions are no different to election promises, and besides that people are benefiting so how could it be a bad thing.

“I think the Regional Partnership Scheme has brought lots of benefits to lots of communities in lots of areas of Australia,” John Howard said in defending his government track record today.

He sure does have a talent for speaking half-truths, hey? And making appeals to self-interest. For there is no doubt that the programme has benefited some, but it’s been at everyone’s expense and the “very flexible discretionary” nature of these deals show they were designed to ultimately benefit Coalition politicians come election time.

John Howard’s view, shared it seems by Mark Vaile and others is that forms of what is essentially vote buying is not unethical. It’s a view about patronage and power, the ends justifying the means and winning at all costs. The clear consequence of this is as I pointed out once before in WE are at a tilting point:

Unlike corruption under other forms of government, from totalitarian state to illiberal democracy, our political officials act in our name with our express consent. Quite honestly, they are our representatives. Ultimately their ethics are our ethics as well. If they are corrupt, and we allow them to be, then we are corrupt, too.

If the Coalition does win this election, it will be at a great cost to our democracy. We’ll be giving a big tick to a bad practice if we re-elect a Coalition government. We’ll be allowing Howard and his kind to assume that governments are elected to govern in the interest of only those people who vote for them.


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  1. I’m pleased to see my writing continue to be relevant after so many years!

  2. Hi Craig. it’s held up well. What is your twitter handle and we will add it to the piece. Wanna send me your mugshot and bio for our contributors page?

  3. .@kathoc, tell me more re Greg Maguire connection with Barnaby – he try to bribe Windsor to leave politics?

  4. The rich political history between Howard, the Na…
    Another great read for your edification from @nofibs