More than half of funding decisions for a grants program designed to improve community safety did not have a clearly recorded basis for the approval, an Australian National Audit Office investigation has found.
The office also found grants from the $184 million Safer Community Fund had favoured coalition seats, with 59% going to government-held electorates since 2016.
The auditors found the Department of Home Affairs’ management of the grant fund was only “partly effective and partly consistent” with Commonwealth Grant Rules and Guidelines that were introduced in 2017.
“Funding decisions were not appropriately informed by departmental briefings,” the auditors found. “And for the majority of decisions, the basis for the decisions was not clearly recorded.”
For more than half of the approved applications, the basis was not recorded or it did not address the eligibility requirements.
The audit found in a number of the selection processes public servants did not provide ministers with an assessment score of each application against a criteria and a summary of why each score was awarded, instead using other methods.
It also found five applicants received $1.12 million in grant funding despite being “assessed as ineligible” under the program’s guidelines.
Most of the funding for community organisations went to religious organisations with Christian and Jewish groups receiving a majority.
“Relatively few applications were received from, and funding awarded to, community groups identifying as Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu or Sikh,” the audit found.
“Identified cultural groups were also not well represented in terms of either applications received or grant funding awarded.”
The audit recommended Home Affairs clearly identify who is responsible for making funding recommendations as well as the person responsible for approving grants, providing more information to the minister, and make a greater audience aware of the opportunity to apply for grants.
The department has agreed to the recommendations and said in a response that it accepted advice to “achieve greater consistency” with commonwealth grant guidelines.