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Camden Labor MP Sally Quinnell announced she would deliver up to $75,000 to a musical organisation of which she was one of the original members under the party’s controversial election fund.
On Saturday, the Herald revealed concerns about Labor’s pre-election Local Small Commitments Allocation, a $37.2 million fund which gave MPs and candidates in all 93 electorates $400,000 to award to community projects in the lead-up to the March 25 poll.
Fifteen days before the March election, Quinnell, who ousted Liberal MP Peter Sidgreaves, announced on Facebook a Minns Labor government would deliver $75,000 for the Camden Musical Society.
“I am so excited to announce that a Minns Labor Government will deliver up to $75,000 for the Camden Musical Society towards the staging costs of musical performances right here in Camden!,” she wrote on March 10.
But Quinnell’s profile on Labor’s website states she was “a founding member of the Camden Musical Society”, and the organisation’s website states she served as a committee member “in the early years” until June 14 last year.
Quinnell did not answer the Herald’s questions, instead deferring to the premier’s office.
The premier’s office said Quinnell had declared her conflict of interest, which will be addressed by probity advisers as applications are assessed.
Community groups nominated by MPs and candidates were invited to make submissions last month, with submissions required to outline how the funding would be spent. The applications would then be considered by an assessment panel.
The funding has yet to be received by nominated groups, with payment predicated on passing through the probity process.
Quinnell’s announcement copped immediate blowback, with responses to the Facebook post questioning whether her involvement with the group made the funding allocation “ethical”.
“Offering that amount of money to one group sounds wrong to me … especially knowing your personal connection to this group. Is this ethical?” Phyllis Foster asked.
“My concern is not about a political party or affiliation to a particular group; it is about being fair to the community, not just the chosen few. Perhaps you need to explain yourself more fully, thank you.”
Murray Bishop, the director of music at the Camden Community Band since 2003, said news Quinnell had awarded funding to a group of which she had been a member “did not go down well”.
“There was a lack of transparency and a lack of a level playing field in terms of who was able to get the funding,” Bishop said, noting $75,000 would have gone a “long way” in helping his group find a band hall.
Camden Musical Society acting president Kerrie Jiear said the group had been nominated to apply for grants worth up to $75,000, saying the costs of putting on productions meant the total funding amount would only cover one and a half shows. The society is yet to make its submission.
She defended Quinnell, saying different politicians have different priorities, pointing to the funding given to the local football club by Sidgreaves, the former Liberal MP.
Quinnell’s social media posts repeatedly reference the group’s upcoming show, and even plugged the recent production of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang in parliament in late May, describing the act as “amazing”.
The $75,000 represented almost a quarter of the $323,000 allocated by Quinnell across five projects in her electorate.
A spokeswoman for Premier Chris Minns said Quinnell had raised her conflict of interest ahead of the election, and the fund had been designed to prevent pork-barrelling and to ensure funding was evenly distributed across the electorates.
“Ms Quinnell made a declaration prior to the election,” she said.
“The NSW government has taken the extraordinary step to put every single project through a rigorous probity process, including by an expert independent assessment panel.”
On Monday, Minns rejected the characterisation of the fund as “pork-barrelling”, saying it was the prerogative of political parties to make election commitments.
The $37.2 million LSCA fund faced fierce criticism from Centre for Public Integrity director Geoffrey Watson, who accused Labor of using taxpayer funds to buy votes.
“I’m just going to say: this is pork-barrelling, pure and simple. This is buying votes with public money. It’s our money, not the politicians’ money,” he said last week.
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