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Grants program overseen by Peter Dutton now under auditor-general investigation

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Australia’s auditor-general is investigating the administration of a community grants program overseen by Peter Dutton. 

Auditor-general Grant Hehir on Wednesday wrote to Labor Senator Kristina Keneally to confirm the audit is taking place after she requested a review of the program, the Safer Communities Fund. 

The fund came under scrutiny earlier this year after it was revealed Mr Dutton, then the home affairs minister, had rejected his department’s advice when he reduced funding from some applications and diverted it to other projects, at least one of which was in his Brisbane electorate.

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Mr Dutton – now the defence minister – has strongly denied any wrongdoing and defended his management of the program.

He has described the suggestion the government did “anything other than support projects worthy of support” as “nonsense”.

The Home Affairs department recommended funding a list of 70 projects using a merit-based assessment under the third round of the Safer Communities Fund, according to documents obtained by the ABC.

But the ABC found on 31 January 2019 that Mr Dutton, in a handwritten note, reduced funding for 19 of the highest-scoring grant applications by a combined total of $5.59 million. 

In his letter on Wednesday, Mr Hehir said an audit of the awarding of funding had commenced.

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“The objective of this audit is to assess whether the award of funding under the Safer Communities Fund was effective and consistent with the Commonwealth Grant Rules and Guidelines,” he wrote.  

The audit is set to review whether appropriate guidelines were in place, whether applications were assessed in accordance with proper guidelines, and whether funding decisions were appropriately informed and documented. 

 

Senator Keneally has previously described the government’s handling of the program as “rorting on an industrial scale”. 

Under grant guidelines, the home affairs minister is expected to take into account the department’s assessment of each project but can make a personal decision to overrule it.

Among the $17.5 million in projects as part of the program were lighting, security cameras, walkways and drones for local councils.

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