Nationals MP discloses government colour coding for regional grants

Labor's Catherine King says Building Better Regions Fund grants a scandal as Nationals' Anne Webster reveals colour coding for government MPs

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 Infrastructure Minister Barnaby Joyce has defended the fund. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong

Infrastructure Minister Barnaby Joyce has defended the fund. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong

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Colour-coded lists were used by government MPs in a controversial $1.38 billion million regional grants program

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A Nationals backbencher has revealed colour-coded lists, only available to government MPs, were used in the latest round of the controversial $1.38 billion regional grants program.

Round five of the Building Better Regions Fund, worth $300 million, was announced on Friday, with Labor analysing where the money was politically spent and finding the infrastructure grants were overwhelmingly awarded (88 per cent) to Coalition-held and marginal seats.

The regional grants program - which is the subject of accusations of ministerial interference and a current sweeping audit by ANAO - was defended on Monday by the Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce as an "open, competitive and merit-based" program. The opposition describes the program is an absolute scandal and rorting on an industrial scale.

The Nationals federal member for the Victorian seat of Mallee, Anne Webster, has revealed colour coding used by government MPs to push for projects to get funding under the Building Better Regions Fund.

Ms Webster told Flow FM that the infrastructure department labelled projects that met the criteria green, and ones that didn't quite make the grade, pink.

"But if an MP wants to really push a project because it's important for the community, then you've got the opportunity to do that," she said in an interview posted online on Tuesday.

"I had no pink projects, so only green ones that actually made it into the criteria and ticked off in the green boxes so to speak."

Asked by the interviewer if she was then, "tickled pink?" she laughed and responded, "Tickled green as the case may be."

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The seat of Mallee received $37.3 million for 33 projects from the program. Ms Webster described it as a great outcome and said the government got very little say in the warding of the grants. She also said people had a right to know how the funding was assessed.

Shadow infrastructure spokeswoman Catherine King said non-government MPs eligible for grants under the Building Better Regions Fund were not given colour-coded lists. She has described the regional grants fund as an "absolute scandal."

"Coalition MPs were given the opportunity to lobby for projects that did not fully meet the eligibility criteria, while other parts of the country were left in the dark," she said.

"This is supposed to be an independent grants program, but instead we find that Barnaby Joyce and his Nationals mates have their fingerprints all over it."

Seat-by-seat analysis, compiled and released by Labor, of the $300 million released on Friday by Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce under the fund's round five, found that Coalition seats were awarded $218 million, or 72.7 per cent, of the total funding.

It also points to a grouping of Coalition seats plus marginal seats (Coalition target seats under a 5 per cent margin) receiving 88 per cent of the total funds.

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