A Liberal MP has publicly awarded almost $40,000 of non-existent environment grants to community groups in a marginal Victorian seat.
- Chris Crewther has deleted three Facebook posts announcing the grants “with Environment Minister Melissa Price”.
- Minister Price forced to clarify the program wasn’t open yet and no funds had been awarded
- Chris Crewther won Dunkley for the Liberals on 1.4 per cent, but redistributions mean the seat is now notionally Labor.
In several social media posts last month, the Member for Dunkley, Chris Crewther, announced grants of between $7,500 and $20,000 under the Community Environment Program.
The now-deleted posts say the announcements were made with, and include videos of, Environment Minister Melissa Price.
The posts attracted attention at Senate Estimates and led to Ms Price having to clarify that no grants had been awarded.
Under the program, organisations will be able to apply for a slice of $150,000 per electorate in grant funding for environmental initiatives, from next financial year.
But the Environment Department told Senate Estimates the program had not started and guidelines had not been written.
Assistant secretary Steve Costello confirmed funding would not be appropriated until next financial year.
“There has been no application process,” he said.
MPs have been collecting expressions of interest for the $22 million program, which was announced in March.
In the three social media posts, Mr Crewther announced $20,000 to the South Eastern Centre for Sustainability, $10,000 to Down’s Estate Community Project and $7,500 to FLOW (Friends of Langwarrin Outdoors and Waterways) under the program.
Mr Crewther refused to say why the posts had been deleted.
“If I am re-elected as the Member for Dunkley, these are some of the projects I identified that I would want to nominate under the Communities Environment Program once it opens,” he said in a statement.
Press release also cited visits ‘to announce the first grants’
The ABC has also viewed a press release issued under Mr Crewther’s name from March 15 that stated he and “Melissa Price, Minister for the Environment, visited several community environmental groups to announce the first grants of the Federal Government’s Communities Environment Program”.
The statement included a quote from the Minister and photographs of her visits with Mr Crewther.
Under questioning from Labor, Ms Price told Question Time that community groups would have to apply for grants when the program opened in the middle of this year.
“I encourage all local members to consult with community groups in their electorates about the potential projects they may wish to nominate.
“The Government has not awarded any funding under this program because the program is not open.”
Ms Price refused to be drawn on why media statements quoted Mr Crewther saying he was happy to announce, with the Minister, funding under the Community Environment Program.
“The good Member for Dunkley takes me to identify four very, very good environmental projects that he proposes to be able to put forward for expressions of interest,” she said.
“Nothing more and nothing less.”
Minister Simon Birmingham said Mr Crewther was a “very active and engaged” local MP.
“Clearly Mr Crewther is indicating projects that he’s committed to supporting in getting grant applications, whether he misworded his Facebook post in that I don’t know,” he said.
Senator Birmingham later told the committee Ms Price had not made any announcements in the video.
Environment Department Secretary Finn Pratt said the department had no knowledge of the post and he did not believe any departmental staff were with Mr Crewther or Ms Price in the electorate of Dunkley in March.
Mr Crewther won the seat of Dunkley by 1.4 per cent in 2016 but redistributions mean the seat is now notionally Labor.
Topics: government-and-politics, environment, australia, frankston-3199
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