Audit finds Coalition’s regional grants program is awarded to projects without more merit

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A scathing audit report found that the former coalition government gave nearly two-thirds of a billion-dollar grant fund to projects that lacked the most merit.

The Australian National Audit Office’s (ANAO) report on the Coalition’s Building Better Regions fund found that national-held voters received $100 million more than other projects if funding was distributed fairly.

What did the report find?

According to the report’s findings, 65% of infrastructure grants went to projects that were not rated as having the most merit.
The government has accused the former Coalition of pork barreling, following previous subsidy scandals.

The $1.15 billion fund has awarded grants to 1,300 projects across the country.

The report says that although the grant scheme is well-designed, money for the projects could be canceled by a panel of ministers, which included national MPs and former deputy prime ministers Barnaby Joyce and Michael McCormack.
“While Nationals represented fewer voters (16 in each round or 24% of the relevant electorates), applications funded by these electorates surpassed those of Liberal Party and PLA electorates in terms of the average number of grants and value of grants,” the report said.
“Applications located in constituencies held by all other political parties received less funding than would have been the case if funding had been awarded based on the results of the merit review process.”

The audit report also revealed that there were 164 occasions when the group of ministers refused funding requests that had been recommended by the ministry, while 179 funding decisions were properly documented.

“Taxpayers deserve better”

Infrastructure Minister Catherine King lambasted the previous government over the funding, saying Australians in the region had been “failed”.
“Former coalition ministers made decisions based on ‘choose your own adventure’ criteria that were not fully explained to those applying for grants,” she said in a statement.
“Regional Australians deserve better, taxpayers deserve better.”

Ms King said the government would have more to say about the fund in the coming months.

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