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Auditor-General to examine Abbott government's anti-crime fund over pork-barrelling claims

EXCLUSIVE

"No one - other than the Liberal Party - has any way of knowing who these grants were awarded to or how much they each receive": David Feeney.

"No one - other than the Liberal Party - has any way of knowing who these grants were awarded to or how much they each receive": David Feeney. Photo: Phil Hearne

The Abbott government's "Safer Streets" anti-crime program is the second federal pot of money in less than a week to attract claims of pork-barrelling in Liberal and Nationals held electorates, prompting the Commonwealth Auditor-General to examine the administration of the $50 million fund.

The decision comes after the opposition last week raised similar concerns over the much larger $314 million Community Development Grants scheme, asserting that it was being used to effectively shore-up coalition seats in a revival of the Howard government's notorious "regional rorts" program.

Run out of the Attorney-General's Department, the Safer Streets Program is described on the official website as "the government's $50 million commitment to deliver effective solutions to local crime hot spots and anti-social behaviour through a grants program focused on retail, entertainment and commercial precincts".

Written to the opposition: Auditor-General Ian McPhee.

Written to the opposition: Auditor-General Ian McPhee. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

But Labor's justice spokesman David Feeney said there were major concerns about the operation of the program due to a lack of transparency over its guidelines, its selection criteria, and ultimately, over which projects were chosen.

Auditor-General Ian McPhee has written to the opposition advising that he will review the scheme to determine such things as value for money, the selection of projects for assistance, and the location of those "in electorate terms".

Mr McPhee will particularly focus on "the processes by which projects were identified ... and whether Safer Streets projects are located in crime hotspots which can reasonably be expected to prevent, detect, and deter crime particularly around retail, entertainment and commercial precincts".

The decision to scrutinise the fund suggests the Auditor-General has arrived at a prime facie assessment that, at the very least, there are questions to be answered about the scheme following reference from Mr Feeney.

He will report to Parliament in autumn next year. 

A spokeswoman for Justice Minister Michael Keenan said the Coalition had made commitments in the lead-up to the election to improve community safety and "we are delivering on those commitments".

"The Attorney General's Department is working with the Auditor General regarding the rollout of the program and that is part of normal process," she said.

Mr Feeney said the opposition believed the allocation of taxpayer funds was politically motivated because it had been achieved without an open tender or rigorous selection criteria.

"The Abbott Government allocated almost $20 million of taxpayer money to organisations hand-picked by the Liberal Party in the lead-up to the 2013 election," he said.

"No one – other than the Liberal Party – has any way of knowing who these grants were awarded to or how much they each receive."

He said the Abbott government had "gutted" Labor's National Crime Prevention Fund, which had been established to address crime black spots and help wayward youth stay out of the criminal justice system through such measures as better lighting and CCTV.

"This program was supposed to help keep communities safe from crime and keep at risk young people on the straight and narrow – but it seems the Abbott government is more interested in maximising the coalition's political prospects.

"Coming on top of alleged rorting in the Community Development Grants program, it's beginning to look like the Abbott government thinks the public purse can be abused for its own political purposes."

Under the scheme's eligibility criteria listed on the website is an explanation that only projects already picked by October last year – meaning essentially before the coalition came to power – will be considered.

'The target group for funding under the first funding round under the Safer Streets Program is organisations that were identified before October 2013 to deliver specific commitments ... Only those organisations previously identified and invited are eligible to apply for funding under Round One," it stipulates.

Last week the opposition claimed that the Community Grants Program had overwhelmingly favoured coalition electorates however the government rejected the allegation, explaining that most of the projects selected for funding had been identified by the former government and approved but had then not been funded.

The government said it was therefore, merely cleaning up Labor's mess.

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