Independent Federal Member for Indi Helen Haines has moved a motion in parliament on Monday pressuring the Government to reform grants programs to ensure public money is not misused.
Under current grants administration processes, the responsible Minister may award Commonwealth grants at their discretion, against official departmental advice and without parliamentary and public scrutiny.
“Taxpayer money should be spent on the needs of communities not the wants of the major parties,” Dr Haines said.
“Australians know when they’re getting pork barrelled, they know they are getting ripped off, it lacks integrity and they’re sick of it. Rorting grants programs wastes money and destroys public trust in government processes.
Dr Haines’ motion proposes the Government introduce legislation to reform grants administration. Such reforms would ensure grant guidelines and selection criteria are clear and publicly available, that public reporting on grants administration includes grants that are awarded contrary to advice given to the Minister, and a Parliamentary Joint Committee on Grants Administration would provide administrative oversight.
“This is not about removing ministerial discretion, it’s about ensuring transparency and accountabilitywhen that discretion is used. Ministers must inform the Parliament when discretionary funding decisions are made, rather than the Parliament finding out months later from the Australian National Audit Office.
“Funding decisions should be evidence-based, with grants awarded on merit and need. Sadly, the major parties can use taxpayer money to shore up votes in marginal seats, while communities in safe seats are forgotten.”
Seconded by Liberal Member for Bass Bridget Archer, Dr Haines’ motion names several Commonwealth grants programs that have been misused for political purposes by the current and former Governments, including the Mobile Black Spot Program, the Community Sport Infrastructure Grant Program, and the Commuter Car Parks Project.
“Both the Labor party and the Coalition are guilty of misusing grants programs to win votes during election campaigns,” Dr Haines said.
“Community groups, led by hardworking volunteers, can miss out on money, not because their grant application wasn’t good enough, but because the responsible minister decides to give the money to someone else, against the advice of their own department.
“Grants funding is vitally important for volunteer-led organisations, not-for-profits, small businesses and local governments to support communities, particularly in regional, rural and remote areas.”
“As the Independent Member for Indi, I’ve been working to improve integrity, accountability, transparency and trust in federal politics.
“The National Anti-Corruption Commission, modelled on my Australian Federal Integrity Commission, began its important work on July 1, and now I’m turning my attention to improving the integrity of grants administration. Dr Haines’ work to improve integrity in politics is supported by the Centre for Public Integrity.
The following comments are attributable to board members of the Centre for Public Integrity:
“Successive governments of both political persuasions over the last few decades have systematically undermined Parliament’s traditional role in our democratic system of scrutinising and approving the expenditure of public money. We need to deal Parliament back into the game when it comes to the supervision and integrity of spending public money,” Professor Gabrielle Appleby said.
“Public money should be spent where it is most needed and will be most effective – not where politicians think it will serve their self-interest. This motion proposes guardrails protecting our money from cynical political decision-making,” Geoffrey Watson SC said.
Former Solicitor-General and the Centre’s newest board member, the Honourable Pamela Tate AM KC said: “Reform of the grants administration process is imperative if we are to achieve integrity in the expenditure of public money and ensure that the executive is accountable to the Parliament.