Auditor considers probe of Dutton grants

The auditor-general is considering a probe into a community grants program steered by Peter Dutton, over concerns he picked projects that benefited the Morrison government.

The home affairs minister’s department recommended 70 projects for funding under a merit-based assessment through the Safer Communities program.

The ABC found Mr Dutton reduced funding for 19 of the highest scoring applications, redirecting more than $5.5 million to projects of his choice.

At least one was in his Brisbane electorate.

Labor’s home affairs spokeswoman Kristina Keneally referred the program to the Australian National Audit Office last month.

Auditor-General Grant Hehir has this week responded to her letter, saying he is conscious of the level of interest in decision-making over grants.

He is considering including an audit of the Safer Communities program in the ANAO’s work program for 2021/22.

“In the event that I decide to undertake an audit of the Safer Communities Fund, our scoping work will take into account your request,” Mr Hehir told Senator Keneally.

A review conducted by ANAO last year ultimately led to Nationals Senator Bridget McKenzie resigning from the ministry.

The probe found the then-sports minister’s office used a colour-coded spreadsheet to designate sports grants to marginal and target seats ahead of the 2019 federal election.

Senator Keneally drew parallels with the two grants programs when writing to Mr Hehir.

“I consider the work proposed a high priority ahead of the next federal election to ensure public money is not again treated as Liberal Party money at the expense of the public good,” she wrote.

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