• Tony Bosworth

Bushfire grants scheme fraud runs into the millions of dollars

After the devastating bushfires of 2019-20, billions of dollars of State money was available to areas hit by the destructive blazes, including Bilpin, Upper Colo and Macdonald Valley, but it turns out even more might have been handed over if there hadn’t been such widespread fraud by unscrupulous individuals and organised crime groups.

Millions of dollars of grants have been pocketed illegally and police have investigated and charged several people but as the NSW Parliament’s Public Accountability Committee has found, there appears to be a complete lack of fraud prevention measures, with one individual able to make more than 200 false applications for which he received over $1m in grants funding.

Most of the money defrauded from the government has now been lost, shifted overseas by organised crime gangs, or simply spent.

Greens MP David Shoebridge, who along with the Committee has been sifting through the data and asking questions of the State government, says Service NSW does not even “have the capacity to identify the full scale of fraud across the billions of dollars of grants funds allocated through it”.

Mr Shoebridge says a series of new internal documents show the scale of the fraud on the bushfire grants scheme run by the NSW Government.

“These documents make very disturbing reading,” said the MP.

“How on earth did the NSW government allow a single person to make more than 200 applications and pocket over a million dollars of emergency relief funds?

“We can see dozens and dozens of applications made by organised crime figures and other people taking advantage of the hopelessly inept lack of fraud prevention measures put in place by the Coalition.

“While there will almost certainly be more criminal cases, the truth is that most of this money has now been lost, either shifted overseas or just spent.

“The government is seeking to downplay the scale of the fraud and part of that strategy is rejecting the expert advice they were given to put in place full data matching programs to identify fraud.

Some grant funds have disappeared overseas

“The experts have been calling for data matching since July 2020 stating:

“Key to the successful identification of potential fraudulent grant applications, is the ability to identify all associated grant applications ties to a fraudulent one … Core Integrity identified early in their engagement that NSW's ability to undertake this type of analysis was limited if not non-existent.”

“The deeper tragedy here is that every cent of this is desperately needed by hard hit communities to rebuild after the fire,” said Mr Shoebridge.

“Instead this money has been thrown away by a government more interested in announceables and spin than real help.

“This is why the Public Accountability Committee is continuing with its grants inquiry, to get to the bottom of exactly how much was lost to fraud and why,” Mr Shoebridge said.

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