Anthony defiant after grants bias finding

By Alex Easton

FORMER Richmond MP Larry Anthony redirected scores of community grants to Coalition seats before the 2004 Federal election.

And he says he'd happily do it all again.

Mr Anthony is criticised in a scathing Auditor-General's report that finds he, as Children and Youth Affairs Minister, over-ruled departmental advice on 120 grants. Mr Anthony redirected the grants largely to Coalition seats and, in particular, to his own seat.

The report, which was tabled in Parliament this week, says National Party electorates received a disproportionately large amount of funding from Mr Anthony's changes to the Volunteer Small Equipment Grants (VSEG) Scheme.

"Although National Party electorates accounted for around 20 per cent of VSEG applications, around 70 per cent of the Ministers' variations from (the department's) funding recommendations related to organisations in National Party electorates, with 15 per cent of variations relating to organisations in (Richmond)," the report says.

"The only factor that had a statistically significant and independent influence on the Minister's decision to increase the number of VSEG 2004 Round One grants provided to an electorate was whether the electorate was held by the National Party."

Mr Anthony said the report had made no finding against him, pointing out that he rejected departmental advice in fewer than two per cent of cases.

He said he spoke to Nationals colleagues before the first round of the grants, asking for recommendations, because 'they know the people in their communities better than any bureaucrats do'.

Asked if that gave people living in seats with Nationals MPs an unfair advantage in accessing the grants, Mr Anthony said he had always been accessible to all MPs from all parties.

"I chose to exercise an independent mind rather than listening to my department all the time," he said.

"There was no personal gain ... I was doing my job.

"I don't step away from it, and if it means paying a few more grants into the seat I represented, then I stand condemned and I'd do it again if I had the chance.

"They are going to great causes, and I hope this Government and future governments will continue to have a small equipment grant."

Mr Anthony rejected comparisons with the infamous 1993/94 'whiteboard affair', which forced then Labor Sports Minister Ros Kelly to quit over claims she was using grants to pork barrel marginal electorates, saying those amounts were much bigger and the grants were heavily skewed toward Labor seats.

Page MP Ian Causley spoke out in Mr Anthony's defence; accusing the Auditor-General of making political comment, and saying grant funding tended to even out over electorates.

Mr Causley accepted the comparison with Ros Kelly, saying 'I thought that was a beat-up as well'.

"Some of my organisations got good funding out of that," he said. "We were trying to get funding for an art gallery in Maclean ... They got $50,000 and (then Page Labor MP) Harry Woods got it off the Ros Kelly whiteboard."

Richmond MP Justine Elliot said the report highlighted the need for transparency.

"It comes back to the process," she said. "It has to be fair, independent and transparent."

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