invitation only grant program
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Pyne’s bonus lobbyhorse

You’re possibly across the news that former minister, MP for Sturt and federal mischief-maker Christopher Pyne was formally advised by the attorney-general’s office that he’s banned from lobbying for Saber Astronautics — a firm which he gave multi-million dollar contracts to while in government.

However, readers who aren’t from South Australia might not be aware of the extent of Pyne’s activity since launching out of that restrictive public office thing he used to do.

These days Pyne is not only running his lobbying company GC Advisory, but also writing op-eds for News Corp’s The Advertiser. It’s pretty much the only physical newspaper — or at least newspaper-shaped thing — still published in the state.

Fortunately there is an online competitor, InDaily, in which journalist Tom Richardson made the helpful observation that the Venn diagram of “things Pyne lobbies for” and “things Pyne writes about in his paid column” looks a lot like a single unbroken circle.

For example, Pyne had a lot to say recently about the need to make more use the Adelaide Park Lands, at a time when the Adelaide Crows — a registered client of GC Advisory — just so happen to be wanting to buy the parklands-located Adelaide Aquatic Centre. Pyne’s columns about the Steven Marshall government watering down changes to SA’s land tax legislation also just so happened to align very tightly with the line taken by property-related businesses he was representing at the time.

Still, as a freelance writer, I can hardly begrudge the man finding a way to invoice twice for the one article. Frankly, the man’s a genius.

Bring on the application-bouncers!

The Department of Social Services has been doing its annual call out for grants to volunteer organisations this year.

That’d be pretty dry news were it not for one fascinating little wrinkle — one which would have likely slipped under the radar if not flagged by former independent MP for Lyne Rob Oakeshott.

Historically, the way one applies for community grants is to wait until the period in which said grants are open, write an application and then see if that application is successful.

However, this year there’s a bonus hoop to jump through for those looking to apply for the Department of Social Services Volunteer Grants 2019-20: community groups will only be sent an application form once they have been nominated by their local MP.

This is no doubt a move to celebrate the rich local knowledge of the excellent work being done in each electorate about which each MP is naturally across. It is definitely not a way to install gatekeepers in place to circumvent departmental oversight by ensuring that only designated projects make it through the process or anything, oh no no no no no no.

This excellent way to streamline the process (without any of that pesky “transparency” stuff) is sure to go down very well in the wake of the very public admonishment of Agriculture Minister Bridget “Barrels o’ Pork” McKenzie too. Good luck to them!

This week in astroturfing

As bushfires rage through much of Australia and the nation’s attention turns to the treatment of volunteer firefighters, one voice on social media has been notably more conspiracy theorist-friendly than others.

That is the NSW Volunteer Fire Fighters Association, a body which –somewhat oddly, given its name — doesn’t appear to actually represent NSW volunteer firefighters so much as act as a mouthpiece of the continually discredited notion that the fires are the fault of the never-in-power Greens and their insidious and nonexistent objection to hazard reduction burning.

Unlike most community bodies this is a private business, not a registered charity or not-for-profit group. Its membership and structure would still be a total mystery were it not for the work of investigative journo Ronni Salt who did all the boring work of checking this stuff.

Salt’s not alone either: actual authority Shane Fitzsimmons, Commissioner of the NSW Rural Fire Service has been forced to waste valuable time patiently explaining that the group is “politically charged” and he would put “very little store in anything [it] has to say [due to the lack of] access to information about who they claim to represent, how many they represent, and how they operate”.

“Their leader is a failed political candidate,” he added. (The group is led by Shooters Fishers and Farmers candidate Mick Holton, who is also an RFS volunteer.)

As Salt points out, this wouldn’t really matter if Holton wasn’t being quoted in actual media — including 10Daily, The Guardian and The Age — talking about the views of firefighters as though he is an official representative of a grassroots organisation.