The Guardian • Issue #1950

Editorial – Dutton funds favoured, less meritorious projects

  • The Guardian
  • Issue #1950

One would think that given how big the Morrison government is on ensuring a “fair go for those who have a go” that merit-based programs would be the shining example of this motto in practice. However, yet again, it has been revealed that the Coalition will play favourites with those who can help it maintain power. It seems that last year’s “sports rort affair,” wasn’t the time when funds were politicised. It has now been revealed that last year Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton has seemingly been providing funds to communities for political reasons instead of meritorious ones.

The Department of Home Affairs provides grants to organisations and communities to improve safety via the Safer Communities Program. The department has guidelines for the program, which it uses to assess and rank each project; however, ultimately, the Home Affairs Minister can overrule his department’s assessments – which is what Dutton did. And while Dutton’s actions fall within the grant’s rules, they raise a lot of questions about Dutton’s discretion.

Ministerial submissions given to Dutton by his department for round three of the Safer Communities Program, show that it recommended funding the seventy highest-ranking projects totalling over $17 million. “The projects included CCTV upgrades, better lighting, and improved building security in non-government organisations and local councils” (ABC).

The department warned Dutton that deviating from the merit system for the grants could draw scrutiny from the Australian National Audit Office or news organisations.

However, in a handwritten note, Dutton reduced funding for nineteen of the highest-scoring grant applications, which totalled over $5 million. For instance, Armidale Regional Council sought $945,687 for its Safety and Security Project but received under half of that ($450,000). The City of Karratha sought $741,730 for its “Light the Way – Creating Safe Karratha Walkways” Project but only received $400,000.

One might be inclined to think that the Coalition is merely attempting to save taxpayer’s money, but there’s a problem with that theory – this isn’t taxpayer money. The multimillion dollar program is funded by seized proceeds of criminal enterprises. This program is attempting to use ill-gotten funds to improve communities.

Dutton told The 7.30 Report in a statement: “The suggestion that the government has done anything other than support projects worthy of support is nonsense.”

Yet Dutton’s actions betray his words.

For instance, the department also provided Dutton with a “reserve list” of 211 other projects it considered were suitable for funding but received lesser scores. Like the first list, it too was ranked highest to lowest. “The department asked Dutton to rank these projects ‘to ensure all available funds are used,’ ” (ABC) – he only ranked fifty-three. The projects included on Dutton’s list were a church within his electorate, called the Vineyard Christian Fellowship and the St Vincent de Paul Society Queensland. Projects that were assessed to have a much lower priority than others his department recommended.

As if this behaviour was not suspicious enough, Dutton announced community safety grants for two local councils before they had even been assessed! As part of a joint press conference with Liberal candidate for Braddon Brett Whiteley, Dutton announced that Waratah-Wynyard Council and Burnie City Council would receive security camera funding. Afterwards, his own department recommended not to fund these projects because they did not represent value for money. However, Dutton’s announcement was an attempt to win a highly marginal seat that the ALP ultimately gained in 2018 against Whiteley but lost in the 2019 election.

The right wing often accuses the left of “politicising” issues, as a way to trivialise concerns and to brush them aside. However, it is clear from the last two years that the Coalition will politicise funding to win favour with electorates and maintain power.

The CPA believes that funding should go where it belongs. It has formed The Communists, our party to fight in elections. If you want to see every day Australians taken care of go to the link below and register today!

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