Dutton steers crime funds
Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton has pushed grant funding to projects he personally chose, against the advice of his department.
Reports have revealed that in 2018, Mr Dutton’s office fast-tracked a one-off $880,000 grant proposal to the Queensland-based National Retail Association (NRA); a lobby for retail and fast food employers.
The grant was pushed through just eight days after the association made a $1,500 political donation to the Queensland Liberal National Party, at an event Mr Dutton attended.
The grant came from a funding pool intended for “national security and criminal justice” projects, and the NRA says it used it to fund the Protecting Crowded Places program, which teaches retail workers to respond to armed offender incidents.
But Mr Dutton controls the approval of grants from the Confiscated Assets Account (CAA) - a pool of money seized from criminal enterprises - including the amount of funding awarded and any conditions that may be attached. Reports say it was one of just a handful of one-off grants he has handed out since becoming Home Affairs Minister.
Legal experts say Mr Dutton’s tight control could be considered a breach of Prime Minister Scott Morrison's ministerial standards.
Mr Dutton used the same fund to support grants for two councils ahead of a by-election in a highly marginal seat.
The Home Affairs Department had warned Mr Dutton that overruling its standard merit-based system could attract the Australian National Audit Office and interest from news organisations.
The Department recommended funding 70 projects according to its merit system, but Mr Dutton reduced funding for 19 of the highest-scoring grant applications, in a handwritten note.
The applications were from local councils, and forced some to reduce the scope of their community safety projects as they had not received the federal funding they needed.
The reduced funding freed up money for other projects, but rather than send it to dozens of other highly-ranked applications, Mr Dutton personally chose a series of projects. These included a project by a church within his electorate and the St Vincent de Paul Society Queensland.
He also also announced the awarding of several community safety grants before they had even been assessed. These included security camera funding for Waratah-Wynyard Council and Burnie City Council, which was announced at a joint press conference with a local Liberal candidate in the lead-up to the 2018 by-election.
Mr Dutton has issued a statement claiming that “the suggestion that the Government has done anything other than support projects worthy of support is nonsense”.
“I am proud of the support the Safer Communities Fund has provided to organisations such as The Scout Association, Salvation Army Trust and St Vincent de Paul who have made Australia a safer place,” he said.
“Australians expect the Government to act to make the communities we live in safer. That is exactly what the Government has done through the Safer Communities Fund.”