“That sounds a little bit like a slush fund. There needs to be change, we need to shine the light on these programs, transparency is a huge disinfectant,” Centre Alliance’s Rex Patrick said.
The government defended the scheme, saying it “supports community infrastructure promoting stable, secure and viable local and regional economies.”
The grants program falls under Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack’s regional infrastructure portfolio, but payments also went to metropolitan areas, including the Sydney seats of Banks and Warringah.
Among the grants was $11.5 million for the Manly Sea Eagles’ Brookvale Oval and $500,000 for St George’s little athletics club in the seat of Banks, held by David Coleman.
There was also a promise of $600,000 for a new netball facility in the same electorate.
“[Mr Coleman’s] office was ringing around asking if the clubs wanted new courts to train on,” Bankstown City Netball Association Secretary Tara Banbury said.
“His office did all the paperwork.”
Of the 99 grants approved between December 2018 and the election in May, 84 went to seats the Coalition either held or was aiming to win from Labor.
Eight grants went to the Tasmanian seat of Braddon, which the Coalition took from Labor. Three went to the knife-edge seat of Corangamite, which the Liberals lost, three to Greg Hunt’s Victorian seat of Flinders, and two to the South Australian seat of Mayo, contested by Georgina Downer.
“The rorts keep coming. This is pork barrelling on steroids,” said Greens Leader Adam Bandt.
“It’s clearly part of an election strategy – that’s not how money should be handed out. Public money should be handed out to people who need it in the places that need it.”
The guidelines for eligibility to the program were broad, demanding only that a body be a “legal entity” and have an ABN or company number.
They also state that while the Department of Infrastructure makes recommendations, ultimately “the decision maker for the CDG Programme is the relevant Minister”.
The Deputy Prime Minister’s office defended his decision making.
“The government continually reviews delivery of all regional programs and implements improvements where necessary, including based on reviews undertaken by the Australian National Audit Office,” a spokesperson for Mr McCormack said.
It’s the second time in a week questions have been raised about a fund Mr McCormack administers, after this masthead and Nine News revealed concerns had been raised with the auditor-general over the Building Better Regions Fund.
A breakdown of that program shows 94 per cent of grants went to Coalition targeted-electorates.