Big Winners of $3.9b in Government Discretionary Grants are Coalition Marginal Seats

New analysis from the Australia Institute’s Democracy & Accountability Program reveals that $3.9 billion spent by federal grants programs with ministerial discretion has clearly skewed towards marginal Coalition seats in particular, at the expense of safe Labor seats and, to a lesser extent, safe Coalition seats.

Marginal Coalition seats received on average $184 per person in discretionary grant funding from national grants programs and $194 per person from regional grants programs, while safe Labor seats received $39 per person from national grants programs and $51 per person from regional grants programs.

Key Findings:

  • This analysis considers seven grants programs which are subject to ministerial discretion, for which public data is available.
    • Four programs were national programs: Community Development Grants Programme, National Stronger Regions Fund, Female Facilities & Water Safety Stream and Environmental Restoration Fund
    • Three programs were broadly limited to regional and rural areas, or at least to regions outside of most capital cities: Building Better Regions Fund, Regional Growth Fund and Regional Jobs and Investment Package
  • $3.9 billion dollars has been distributed via these programs since 2013. $2.8 billion (71%) of the discretionary grant funding pool were funnelled into Coalition-held seats. Just $903 million (23%) went to Labor seats, and $232 million (6%) to seats held by independents or minor parties.
  • Across the four national programs, marginal Coalition seats received an average $184 per person, almost five times the $39 per person received by safe Labor seats. Electorates represented by independent/minor party candidates have also been clearly targeted, receiving $206 per person.
    • If every safe Labor seat had been funded as generously as marginal Coalition seats, they would have received an additional $928 million in total. If every marginal Labor seat had been funded as generously as marginal Coalition seats, they would have received an additional $316 million in total. If every safe Coalition seat had been funded as generously as marginal Coalition seats, they would have received an additional $626 million in total.
  • Across the three regional grants programs, marginal Coalition seats received almost four times as much funding ($194 per person) as those in safe Labor seats ($51 per person)

“It is worrying to see grants programs awarded via ministerial discretion favour marginal and target seats so heavily at the expense of other Australians,” said Bill Browne, senior researcher in the Australia Institute’s Democracy & Accountability Program.

“It seems a spectacular coincidence that 17 of the top 20 most funded electorates under the regional grants programs are current Coalition electorates, and even more so that all safe Coalition seats that received $25 million or more in Community Development Grants are held by National Party members.

“These grants fund outdoor spaces, animal shelters, foot paths and autism services, to identify just some of the projects funded by this program. Any electorate could benefit from these projects, which calls into question what criteria is being used at Ministerial discretion, when the recipients are so clearly skewed towards the Government’s target seats rather than need.”

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