Revelations that the Provincial Growth Fund will fund all-weather tracks for the horse-racing industry, an uncosted plan already approved by Cabinet, show there are no limits for Shane Jones’ slush fund, National's economic development spokesman Paul Goldsmith says.
“Make no mistake, National supports the racing industry and recognises its economic contribution. That’s not the issue here - funding decisions should be open and rigorous. Instead, the process is opaque and murky so it's hard to disentangle the arguments.
“Mr Jones has revealed that $30 million of contingency funding in the PGF has been earmarked for pet projects including several all-weather tracks for horse racing, a Northland sports hub and Dunedin digital plan. He referred to the plans as ‘a coalition dividend’ that came out of the coalition negotiations.
“He says the projects will be subjected to rigorous scrutiny but papers released to National under the OIA from the PGF’s Independent Advisory Panel make a nonsense of that, showing ‘manifesto commitments’ won’t get a thorough assessment.
“On the sports hub in Kaitaia, for example, the panel says, ‘the application for the PGF to fund the Te Hiku Sports Hubs has been agreed as part of a manifesto commitment and does not require formal advice from the panel to the Minister’.
“This is the latest sign that the criteria for the PGF is ‘as loose and as billowing as the deep blue sea'. It’s an all-purpose political slush fund and you can fit anything into it.
“In this case, they're not even making an argument, they're just saying we're going to do it. Mr Jones has indicated he will use the fund in a brazenly political way and with a Northland skew.
“The price of Labour’s deal with NZ First keeps mounting – with the $3 billion Provincial Growth slush fund and $900 million for diplomats and aid. As spending pressures build elsewhere, such as in education and health, all this loose spending is looking increasingly unjustifiable.”