Federal grants programs with ministerial discretion have been skewed towards marginal Coalition seats, a new analysis claims.
Left-leaning think tank the Australia Institute says a majority of spending since 2013 through seven grants programs — four national and three only for regional areas — went to Coalition-held seats.
The analysis flags $2.8 billion, or 71% of the $3.9 billion “discretionary grant” funding pool, went to Coalition seats.
Bill Browne, a senior researcher at the institute’s democracy and accountability program, said 17 of the top 20 most-funded electorates under the regional grants programs were Coalition seats.
“These grants fund outdoor spaces, animal shelters, footpaths and autism services, to identify just some of the projects funded by this program,” Browne said.
“Any electorate could benefit from these projects, which calls into question what criteria is being used at ministerial discretion, when the recipients are so clearly skewed towards the government’s target seats rather than need.”
Marginal Coalition seats received an average of $184 per person from the four national grant programs, while safe Labor seats received $39 per person, the analysis finds.
Meanwhile, the institute claims electorates represented by independents or minor party candidates had been “clearly targeted” after the research found the seats received $206 per person.
The Coalition holds a majority of regional seats and this could be one factor behind some of the findings.
In a 2020 report, the Australian National Audit Office found the federal government used grants from a sports infrastructure program to target key electorates in the months leading up to the 2019 election.
In June, the same office slammed the government for its administration of a $660 million national car park fund, noting that 70% of the projects were announced during the 2019 federal election caretaker period.
The auditor also found last month that a majority of federal grants by value in the past three years were decided through a closed, non-competitive process, becoming less frequent in the past two years.