Coalition-held seats awarded billions in federal government grant money, analysis finds

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  • Scott Morrison
    30th Prime Minister of Australia

Since 2013, 71% of $3.9bn in taxpayers’ funds has been allocated to projects in government electorates

Scott Morrison enters the final parliamentary sitting week of the year facing fresh questions about the Coalition’s record of administering grants to government electorates.

New analysis has found, since 2013, the bulk of government grant money has gone to government-held seats.

The analysis says $3.9bn has been allocated under seven federal programs since the Coalition came to power, and $2.8bn, or 71% of the total taxpayer-funded pool, has gone to projects in government electorates.

According to the analysis, conducted by the Australia Institute, only $903m was distributed to Labor-held seats in programs that gave ministers discretion over how grants were allocated, while $232m went to electorates held by independents or minor parties.

Related: Bridget McKenzie defends regional grants that disproportionately benefited Coalition seats

The study finds safe Coalition seats received more than $1.6bn, marginal Coalition seats more than $1.1bn, marginal Labor seats about $550m, safe Labor seats $255m and seats held by micro-parties or independents $132m.

Some of the skewing can be explained by the fact some discretionary grants programs were broadly limited to regional and rural areas, or to regions outside the major cities, and the Coalition holds the lion’s share of those seats. Three of the seven programs analysed were in this category.

But the new analysis will give fresh impetus to criticism about the government’s contentious record in grant allocations. The administration of programs such as sports grants and the allocation of funds for commuter carparks has been excoriated by the Australian National Audit Office.

The report from the progressive thinktank comes as Morrison and senior ministers will attempt to neutralise the rolling internal dissent that characterised last week.

Liberal senators Gerard Rennick and Alex Antic refused last week to vote with the government on anything, apart from procedural motions, to protest vaccine mandates, and Liberal MP Bridget Archer crossed the floor in an effort to bring on parliamentary debate about a federal anti-corruption commission.

Morrison signalled on Sunday the government was unlikely to bring forward legislation giving effect to its own integrity commission proposal this week unless Labor was inclined to support it.

Some Liberal backbenchers are concerned the government’s model is too weak, and have lobbied for changes. But there have been divisions in cabinet about measures to strengthen the proposal – including about whether or not to allow public hearings for investigations into politicians.

Morrison suggested on Sunday the government was not inclined to beef up its model. But the attorney general Michaelia Cash was more equivocal. “At this point in time, the bill is as it stands,” she told reporters in Canberra.

The government is also battling to secure support for its controversial voter ID legislation. It wants to pass that measure this week, but the fate of the bill remains uncertain.

Over the weekend, Australia also recorded its first two cases of inbound travellers with the Omicron variant of Covid-19. The new strain has been designated as a variant of concern by the World Health Organization because of its “concerning” mutations and because “preliminary evidence suggests an increased risk of reinfection with this variant”.

The cases are in New South Wales.

Related: $25bn in Coalition grants made through closed process with no competitors, report finds

The prime minister told reporters Australia was in a good position to manage the new strain because vaccination rates were among the highest in the world. Morrison encouraged people to get vaccinated if they had not already had the jab, and to get a booster if one was due.

Morrison said the emergence of a new strain would not push Australia back to the uncertainties of February and March of 2020, which was the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.

“We now have good knowledge,” the prime minister said. “Good advice. The uncertainties are not like they used to be.

“We have good systems which have been proven, which is demonstrated by one of the lowest fatality rates, strongest economies and highest vaccination rates in the world.”

While restrictions have been imposed on returning travellers, the prime minister said the objective remained to “open safely and remain safely open”.

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