The NSW Tourism Minister has defended his government’s handling of a fund that skewed heavily towards government-held areas.
Stuart Ayres told a budget estimates hearing on Tuesday that officials took no note of where applicants lived when assessing their requests for funding from a fund called “Refresh and Renew”.
An analysis of the funds handed out in the most recent financial year showed more than two-thirds of grants were handed to businesses in Coalition seats.
That’s despite Coalition MPs holding only about half of the seats in the NSW lower house.
Labor last month claimed there was “clear bias” in the funding process and accused the government of pork-barrelling.
“This is a merit-based application process, applications were assessed by Destination NSW and the recipients of these funds were selected based on their meritorious applications,” Mr Ayres said on Tuesday.
“I didn’t play an active role in the selection of grants. They are approved by me as the Minister for Tourism and they are selected based on their merit.
“There isn’t a criteria in the application process that refers to where these businesses are located in relation to state seats, so I think it would be a poor characterisation to suggest that Destination NSW considered the sites that businesses are located in when making their selections.”
Mr Ayres was also asked about a successful Refresh and Renew application that was submitted by a business owned by a director of a tourism board that selected applications for assessment despite a warning of a potential conflict of interest.
“I will defend the process for meritorious selection in general,” Mr Ayres said.
“I’m going to work on an assumption here that that selection process would have ensured that there was an appropriate level of probity around that individual grant and that any required declarations around that were undertaken.
“But I’m happy to take on notice and come back to the committee to update the committee to ensure that took place.”
The government said in February last year it had set aside $1m to fund the grant scheme, which gives eligible businesses $10,000 to spruce up their facilities so that customers can have more enjoyable holidays.