The Regional Jobs and Investment Packages (RJIP) is a competitive grants program that was established to drive economic growth and create jobs in 10 regions across five States:
- QLD: Bowen Basin, Tropical North Queensland, Wide Bay Burnett;
- NSW: North Coast, South Coast;
- SA: Upper Spencer Gulf;
- VIC: Geelong, Goulburn Valley, Latrobe Valley; and
- TAS: Regional Tasmania.
The program originated from a 2016 election commitment to establish a $200 million program to deliver regional jobs and growth, with the expectation of leveraging a further $200 million or more in matched funding. The 2016 Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook separately identified a further $20 million Regional Jobs and Investment Package for the Latrobe Valley region. A further $2.3 million was transferred to RJIP from the uncommitted funds in the Tasmanian Jobs and Investment Fund.
Administration of the program is the responsibility of the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Cities and Regional Development (Infrastructure). Infrastructure engaged the Business Grants Hub within the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science (Industry) to administer key aspects of the program. This included receipt and assessment of applications, and execution and monitoring of grant agreements. The assessment process was outsourced by Industry at a cost of $3.15 million to a contractor accessed under a standing deed for contact centre services.
Infrastructure administers significant grant funding including in areas such as regional development and cities and predominantly manages this funding through the Business Grants Hub. Outsourcing grants presents risks relating to assurance of quality, compliance and accountability. ANAO audit activity has also highlighted risks where assessment of grant applications does not verify the claims of applicants or ensure the assessment criteria are applied in full.
The objective of the audit was to assess whether the award of funding under the RJIP program was informed by appropriate departmental advice and that processes complied with the grants administration framework.
To form a conclusion against the objective, the ANAO adopted the following high-level criteria:
- Were applications soundly assessed in accordance with the program guidelines?
- Were funding decisions supported by clear advice and consistent with requirements?
- Advice provided by the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Cities and Regional Development was largely appropriate, however the assessment processes were not to the standard required by the grants administration framework.
- Applications were not soundly assessed in accordance with the program guidelines. The eligibility requirements were not applied in full, and there are indications of shortcomings in the assessment of the merit criterion most directly related to the program outcomes. Requests for co-funding exemptions were not appropriately considered and conflict of interest management was not to a consistently appropriate standard. It is not clear that the documented assessment procedures were sufficiently well developed, and there is insufficient evidence that each of the more than 60 individuals that undertook the assessments received adequate training.
- Decisions taken on the award of grant funding were supported by clear advice and consistent with the requirements of the grants administration framework. The Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Cities and Regional Development provided the Ministerial Panel with comprehensive written briefings to inform the award of grant funding in each of the 10 regions. The briefings included clear funding recommendations that were based on the results of the assessment of applications undertaken. The briefing approach promoted accountability by identifying to decision-makers the requirement for them to record the reasons for awarding funding to applications that had not been recommended. The approach to the overturn decisions did not include re-scoring of applications that the Panel identified as having been incorrectly scored, and the grants administration framework does not require that decisions to approve not recommended projects be reported annually to the Finance Minister (only those that are specifically recommended for rejection).