The NSW Auditor-General has criticised the lack of a business case in the state’s $5 billion WestInvest program.

A new audit has castigated the former state government for misusing the $5 billion fund, originally intended to bolster local infrastructure following the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The fund, established from the proceeds of Sydney's WestConnex motorway sale, was found to have been allocated to projects of questionable merit, raising concerns over the potential risk to the state's AAA credit rating.

The report highlighted the former government's failure to design the WestInvest program with sufficient integrity, lacking the necessary research or analysis to justify the considerable public expenditure. 

As a result, over $1.1 billion was directed towards projects of low or moderate merit, a move NSW Treasurer Daniel Mookhey labelled as “pork barrelling at the public’s expense”.

Criticism was particularly directed at the process of funding allocation, which was influenced by senior MPs able to override the program's steering committee. 

The absence of a business case to evaluate the program's benefits, costs, and impacts was noted as a significant oversight. 

Furthermore, the assertion that Western Sydney had disproportionately suffered due to the pandemic was not substantiated with evidence or analysis.

The audit uncovered that the majority of the 27 projects funded under the program did not align with its intended focus areas and were often considered “business as usual” activities, rather than transformative community infrastructure. 

This misalignment not only threatened the state's credit rating but also reflected poorly on the government's prioritisation of asset sale proceeds over debt reduction.

In response to the findings, former Liberal treasurer Matt Kean defended the allocation decisions, noting the benefits delivered to Western Sydney, including school upgrades and health hubs. 

Kean says the former government prioritised regional development over concerns raised by European rating agencies, a view not shared by the Auditor-General.

Following the change of government at the 2023 election, the program was renamed the Western Sydney Infrastructure Grants Program.

The full audit report is accessible here.