Senate debates

Tuesday, 30 November 2021

Questions without Notice: Additional Answers

Morrison Government

5:40 pm

Photo of Jonathon DuniamJonathon Duniam (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for Forestry and Fisheries) Share this | | Hansard source

I table a response to a question taken on notice during question time on 29 November asked by Senator Gallagher relating to the allocation of grants at the discretion of ministers and seek leave to have the document incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The document read as follows—

Dear Mr President

Following my commitment yesterday in question time, I am providing further information in response to a question from Senator Katy Gallagher about allocation of grants at the discretion of Ministers. Whilst her primary question asked about discretion for Ministers to award amounts from 'funds', I take it, from her supplementary questions, that she was not referring to investment funds, but rather to Commonwealth grant programs.

I indicated to the Senate yesterday that there are known constraints on extracting aggregated data about grant decision makers, hence I cautioned that I could only endeavour to provide more detail so far as such information could be extracted.

The ANAO recently observed in Information Report No. 7 2021-22 that "[t]he GrantConnect dataset does not include information about whether ... a Minister was involved in the decision making" (p12). The ANAO's statement relates to structured data held on GrantConnect, in a searchable form.

I can clarify that Grant Opportunity Guidelines are also available as separate documents on GrantConnect, containing details on the relevant decision maker for each program, including where this is a minister. Information on decision makers is not discretely placed into a unique datafield and therefore cannot be extracted through search tools. To determine the number of grants awarded by ministerial approval would therefore require a manual assessment of all Grant Opportunity Guidelines and consultation with all Commonwealth entities involved in grants administration.

This would be an unreasonable diversion of resources and require an extensive period of time to assemble the information. As the ANAO recently reported, there were 108,206 grant awards, with a total value of $60.2 billion, published on GrantConnect with a start date between 31 December 2017 and 30 June 2021.

I note that GrantConnect became operational in February 2017 and was initially designed to improve the discovery and transparency of granting activities at a whole-of-government level, replacing the previous process of granting entities publishing limited details of their granting activities on their own websites. I also note that it is a tool to connect members of the community to grant opportunities, including by registering for 'push notifications' of different program types. Accordingly those factors have shaped the way in which the database has been built and evolved. Ongoing work continues to enhance the utility of the database for other purposes, including for extraction of data and reporting.

As I noted in my answer in the Senate yesterday, the awarding of grants by Ministers serves many benefits including enabling expedited responses to targeted areas of need, such as support to the aged care and early childhood sectors to assist them dealing with the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

When Ministers decide grants they are always required in the first instance to receive and consider official advice on the merits of applications and must record in writing the basis for the approval relative to the grant opportunity guidelines and the key principle of achieving value with relevant money (these are mandatory requirements under rule 4.10 of the Commonwealth Grant Rules and Guidelines). But they are not rubber stamps and are obliged to use their own judgement.

Ministers are often uniquely positioned as grant decision-makers because they often have greater opportunities than officials to consult extensively with community organisations, local business and other stakeholders. Ministers have a very broad understanding of community needs as they travel extensively around the country and hear frequently from constituents, including from people who are referred by Parliamentary colleagues from around the country on both sides of the aisle.

Yours sincerely

Simon Birmingham

20 November 2021