‘Just the election process’: Morrison sticks by projects funded through grants

The federal government has tipped an extra $175 million into discretionary grants programs in its mid-year budget update with Prime Minister Scott Morrison saying it is “just the election process” to spend money in this manner.

An analysis by The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age of more than 19,000 grants across 11 programs over which ministers or MPs had control found three times more money went to Coalition-held seats than Labor electorates.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has added $175 million to discretionary grants programs in the mid-year budget update.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

Thursday’s mid-year economic and fiscal outlook added $100 million to the Building Better Regions Fund, $50 million to the Safer Communities program and $25.3 million to the Community Development Grants, three of the programs examined.

It has also put aside money for election promises as part of $16 billion worth of decisions yet to be announced or not for public release. This includes expenditure associated with COVID vaccines and boosters.

Mr Morrison said he would not apologise for keeping commitments made to voters.

“Where we have made commitments, we meet them,” he said.

“That’s the electoral process and we have been very transparent about that.”

Asked if he was punishing people who vote for Labor, Mr Morrison said, “I can tell you, if they support our candidates, the commitments I make will be delivered”.

He again noted the analysis included a program that gave money to drought-stricken communities and most of the eligible seats are in Coalition hands.

If the drought communities program is excluded, $1.6 billion went to Coalition electorates over the three years and $500 million to Labor ones.

Opposition leader Anthony Albanese said he expected “further buckets of money” would flood marginal seats ahead of the next election.

He spoke to media from a park that lies between his electorate of Grayndler, which received $718,000, and the neighbouring marginal Liberal seat of Reid, which received $14.8 million.

“Does he [the Prime Minister] not think that there are projects at schools where people are being taught in demountables in my electorate that are worthy of support?” Mr Albanese said.

“The fact is that this prime minister is going out of his way to tell millions of Australians that he’s not on your side. That is Scott Morrison’s motto. Very clearly, only interested in providing support for people who can do something for him.”

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg claimed the analysis was skewed because it did not include funding for aged care, health, or disability support programs.

“I note that the member for Grayndler was saying that he wasn’t receiving grants. Well, he got an $87 million grant under the NDIS [National Disability Insurance Scheme] community support grants,” he said.

That funding was awarded in an open, competitive process for community organisations to provide local coordination services for the scheme. The organisation which received that money is located in Labor MP Tony Burke’s seat of Watson, on the other side of the road from Grayndler. This masthead informed the government of the organisation’s location last week.

The 19,000 grants analysed represents 19 per cent of all government grants given out over the past three years, and 5 per cent of their value.

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