Government grant assessment criteria ‘must be above suspicion’

The Australian Local Government Association (ALGA) has renewed calls for public grants to councils and community organisations to be assessed against transparent criteria and awarded on merit.

It comes amidst allegations that some state and commonwealth government grants and funding programs, including the Safer Communities Fund, have been “gerrymandered”.

ALGA President Linda Scott said the Safer Communities Fund program – which is financed by the seized proceeds of crime and assets confiscated from criminals – is a constructive way to help local communities prevent crime and enable safer communities.

“The underlying administrative principles of the Safer Communities Fund program – or any other or public funding program – must be merit and transparency,” Cr Scott said.

Councils work closely with their local communities to identify crime hotspots and ensure the right infrastructure – usually lighting or design upgrades – is in place to address prevent crime, address anti-social behaviour, and protect at-risk communities.

Cr Scott said the Safer Communities Fund is another example of councils working on behalf of their communities to drive locally led solutions to local issues.

“Councils that have had projects funded by the Safer Communities Fund are grateful for the support of the Federal Government,” she said.

“However, to ensure councils and communities can have confidence in the use of public money for Commonwealth grant allocations, it will be important for future grant rounds to have established criteria, with merit-based recommendations adopted by the Federal Government.”

This is especially important given the public’s dissatisfaction with how democracy in Australia is working continues to grow.

Cr Scott said councils are typically required to make local government grant decisions in public meetings, based on public recommendations and merit assessments.

When variations occur, the decisions are explained in public meetings where clear, transparent justifications are provided.

“This level of public accountability should standard operating procedure for all levels of government,” Cr Scott said.