Regional grants given against advice

by Andrew Brown


A scathing audit report has revealed the former coalition government gave almost two-thirds of a $1 billion grants fund to projects that did not have the most merit.

The report by the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) into the coalition’s Building Better Regions fund found electorates held by the Nationals received $100 million more than other projects if funding was distributed fairly.

According to the report’s findings, 65 per cent of the infrastructure grants were awarded to projects not assessed as having the most merit.

The government has accused the former coalition of pork barrelling, coming off the back of previous grants scandals.

The $1.15 billion fund has awarded grants to 1300 projects across the country.

The report said while the grants program was well designed, money for projects could be overridden by a panel of ministers, which included Nationals MPs and former deputy prime ministers Barnaby Joyce and Michael McCormack.

“While the Nationals accounted for fewer electorates (16 in each round or 24 per cent of applicable electorates), applications funded from these electorates out-performed those in Liberal Party and ALP electorates in terms of both average number of grants and value of grants,” the report said.

“Applications located in electorates held by all other political parties were awarded less grant funding than would have been the case had funding been awarded based on the results of the merit assessment process.”

Infrastructure Minister Catherine King blasted the previous government over the funding, saying regional Australians had been “dudded”.

“Former coalition ministers made decisions on the basis of ‘choose your own adventure’ criteria that weren’t fully explained to those applying for grants,” she said in a statement.

“Regional Australians deserve better, taxpayers deserve better.”

Ms King said the government would have more to say about the fund in coming months.

The audit report also found there were 164 occasions where the panel of ministers declined applications for funding that had been recommended by the department, while 179 funding decisions were documented properly.