Media Release by The Hon Mal Brough MP

ANAO Report Debunks Labor Claims of Political Bias in Grants

Claims by Labor that funding decisions for a number of Howard Government community grants programs were influenced on the basis of partisan considerations have been debunked by the latest ANAO Report.

Minister for Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, Mal Brough said that the overall recommendation of a review of a number of his portfolio grants programs over the period 2004- 2005 was that FaCSIA had established generally sound procedures to administer most grants programs.

He said the ANAO review of the Distribution for Community Grants Programs was partially influenced by a letter by the ALP Member for Prospect who had wrongly claimed that there was political bias in the allocations of grants. This claim by the Member for Prospect has been rejected by the ANAO report.

Mr Brough said the community expected the Government to administer programmes well, but also, as responsible Ministers, to use commonsense and discretion in the people’s interest and not simply be captive to the bureaucracy. We all know that not all recommendations of Departments are correct – which is simply a human reality – and Ministers do have a role in making the final decision.

In particular, the ANAO report found:

  • Overall for these programmes, the political party holding an electorate did not have a statistically significant independent impact on either average grant size or the success rate of applications in electorates.
  • Local Answers funding actually favoured the ALP electorates rather than the Coalition.
  • The higher value of Volunteer Small Equipment Grants funding to Coalition electorates was predominantly due to the higher number of applications by organisations in these electorates.
  • More applications for VSEG were received from Government electorates partly because Government MPs were more active than Opposition MPs in encouraging organisations to apply and partly because the Government held more non-metropolitan seats (from which more VSEG applications are typically received than metropolitan seats).
  • FaCSIA generally administered eight one-off grants (that were election promises) in line with relevant legislation and guidelines. However, the report did identify technical shortfalls in how the Department administered the approval of the grants by not seeking formal approval after they had clarified the details of the grants.
  • Some of the earlier internal processes within the Department didn’t meet the standard of administration expected. Nonetheless, there was no evidence of any inappropriate outcomes and the Department had already implemented better processes.
  • Even though the ANAO suggests that Ministers provide more reasons for departing from Departmental recommendations – in those few instances where Ministers use their legal discretion (99% accepted across those programs examined) – the Ministers’ actions in these cases were consistent with the Financial Management Act Regulations.

Mr Brough said the report indicates there are a number of legitimate reasons, such as local knowledge, as to why Ministers would make changes to recommendations. The report overall suggests that the right balance has been found.

He said the ANAO made several technical recommendations and Government would consider all of those recommendations – a number of which FaCSIA had already accepted and were responding to.

“As a Minister responsible for a number of very expensive and important programmes over a number of years, I have always accepted that the ANAO can play a constructive role in reviewing programme administration,” the Minister said.

“Accordingly, we will look at all recommendations seriously.

“This report shows that Ministers used their lawful discretions, in a relatively small number of cases and there was no suggestion that those choices were inappropriate.

“The Report specifically debunks the claims of political bias that Labor had been claiming.

“I call on the ALP to apologise to the Government, the officers who administer those programs and, importantly, those valued community groups whose successful grants were impugned by the unsupported allegations made by the Member for Prospect and his Labor mates in both public and Parliamentary forums.

“The report basically points to VSEG funding results being slightly better in Coalition electorates due to demographic variations between seats and because Coalition members are working harder for their electorates than ALP members are.

“The Labor Member for Prospect and his mates should be embarrassed by this report because he was trying to suggest it was bias rather than his and his Labor colleagues’ laziness that resulted in their local community groups not getting funding.”