Auditor-General queries Coalition bias of Safer Communities Fund grants



An audit has found grants provided under a Morrison government community safety program were skewed towards Coalition-held seats and often did not meet the guidelines.

The Safer Communities Fund was set up in 2016 and has seen eight selection processes across five rounds with $184 million in grants awarded to 700 applicants.

A sixth round is under way.

The program was set up to address crime and anti-social behaviour by funding crime prevention initiatives, such as fixed and mobile security cameras and lighting.

In 2019, following the Christchurch terrorist attacks, they were expanded to protect schools, pre-schools and community organisations facing security risks associated with racial and religious intolerance.

A report by the Auditor-General released on Monday found 59 per cent of total project locations in the first round of the scheme were in Coalition-held seats.

Labor seats accounted for 27 per cent of projection locations, and all but one of these were marginal.

For the five selection processes that involved an open call for applications, 53 per cent related to projects located solely in a Coalition-held electorate, with Labor seats comprising 33 per cent.

The audit report found that while grant opportunity guidelines were appropriate, applications were not assessed fully in accordance with them.

“The guidelines have not clearly identified that it is the Department of Home Affairs that makes the funding recommendations, and over time the guidelines have become less clear on which minister would be making the grant funding decisions,” the report said.

“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 except for 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”.

As well, for six selection processes, the department put forward “lists of candidate applications for inclusion on ‘reserve’ lists without any recommendation as to which of those should be selected, or why”.

On one occasion, a minister approved a total of $199,570 in funding for two applications the department had not recommended on the basis of the assessment against the merit criteria.

The minister had visited the two applicants during a by-election and publicly announced they would be awarded funding.

On another occasion, an assistant minister awarded a total of $1.3 million to five applicants the department had advised him were unsuitable for funding.

The minister’s decision was informed by visits he had undertaken to the applicants after applications for the round had closed.

Overall, 84 per cent of funding went to religious organisations, but the audit found some faith groups believed the grants were skewed towards Christian and Jewish organisations.

“Hindu and Tamil communities raised issues with the accessibility of the grant funding opportunity, including whether there is ‘favouritism towards European religions or communities’,” the report said.

The Home Affairs department agreed to make a number of changes to the program’s design and operation.

It said those who had received grants had reported “good outcomes”, including an increase in perceptions of safety.


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