An audit found that grants awarded under a Morrison government community safety program were skewed in favor of coalition-held seats and often did not meet guidelines.
The Safer Communities Fund was established in 2016 and has seen eight selection processes spread over five rounds with $184 million in grants awarded to 700 applicants.
A sixth round is underway.
The program was set up to combat crime and anti-social behavior by funding crime prevention initiatives such as fixed and mobile security cameras and lighting.
In 2019, following the Christchurch terrorist attacks, they were extended to protect schools, preschools and community organizations facing security risks related to racial and religious intolerance.
An Auditor General’s report released on Monday found that 59% of the total number of project slots in the first round of the program were in coalition-held seats.
Workers’ seats accounted for 27% of screening venues, and all but one were marginal.
Of the five selection processes that involved an open call for nominations, 53% were for projects located only in a coalition-held electorate, with Labor seats accounting for 33%.
The audit report found that although the grant opportunity guidelines were appropriate, applications were not fully assessed in accordance with them.
“The guidelines did not clearly identify that it was the Home Office who makes the funding recommendations, and over time the guidelines became less clear about which Minister would make grant funding decisions” , says the report.
“For three of the selection processes, the minister identified in the guidelines as the decision maker did not make the decisions.”
The audit found that with the exception of one of the eight selection processes, the department “did not provide adequate information on the results of the assessment of each eligible application against the published merit criteria.”
In addition, for six selection processes, the ministry presented “lists of candidates to be placed on ‘reserve’ lists without any recommendation as to which of these should be selected or why”.
On one occasion, a minister approved total funding of $199,570 for two applications that the department had not recommended based on assessment against merit criteria.
The Minister had visited both candidates during a by-election and publicly announced that they would receive funding.
On another occasion, an assistant minister awarded a total of $1.3 million to five applicants whom the department advised him were not eligible for funding.
The Minister’s decision was informed by the visits he made to applicants after applications closed for the round.
Overall, 84% of funding went to religious organizations, but the audit found that some faith groups believed the grants were directed at Christian and Jewish organizations.
“The Hindu and Tamil communities have raised questions regarding the accessibility of the grant funding opportunity, including whether there is ‘favoritism towards European religions or communities’,” the report said.
The Home Office agreed to make a number of changes to the design and operation of the program.
He said those who had received grants had reported “good results”, including an increase in the perception of safety.