This report provides Parliament and the public with information on how Lotterywest and the Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries (DLGSC) managed Phase 1 of the COVID-19 Relief Fund from its announcement on 30 March 2020 until 30 June 2020. Phase 1 relates to the first $59 million of the total $159 million Fund.
Western Australia (WA) has been in a rolling State of Emergency and under public health directions due to the COVID-19 pandemic since mid-March 2020. Social distancing measures were put in place, which included restrictions on gatherings and movement of citizens across intrastate and interstate borders, and forced closures of business and community facilities. These measures had the potential to severely impact the ability of arts, sports and community organisations to operate and support the WA public during the pandemic and into the future. The COVID-19 Relief Fund was established by Lotterywest and the State Government to provide funds to support these organisations in recognition of the difficulties they faced.
During the audit I was pleased to see how quickly entities developed the Fund after its announcement, and the level of collaboration and responsiveness from Lotterywest and DLGSC in making funds available to affected organisations as quickly as possible. It was equally encouraging to see that decision making has been underpinned by appropriate attention to sound governance and oversight, especially by Commissioners and senior leaders of the lead entity Lotterywest. Using robust and well-managed decision making processes increases public confidence in government institutions, especially in a time of rapid response.
The easing of State restrictions has allowed some arts, sports and community organisations to open and learn how to operate under changed circumstances more quickly than anticipated. However, grant programs, like the Fund, are stated to continue as a mechanism for the State Government to support the community as it recovers from the effects of the pandemic.
Recent public scrutiny of grants in other Australian jurisdictions highlights the risk inherent in some grant programs, particularly approaching an election period. The main risk is that grants are awarded as a result of inappropriate government influence for the purpose of electoral favour, rather than basing approvals on impartial and consistent assessment against transparent selection criteria. An inexplicably high proportion of grants in marginal or government-held seats may indicate a need for further investigation to determine if inappropriate interference in the granting process occurred.
It is pleasing that the high level of risk awareness by the Lotterywest Board in this regard, and the resultant sound governance arrangements implemented for the Fund, meant this risk did not materialise in Phase 1. Maintaining constant vigilance over further phases of the Fund’s roll-out and other such grant programs, including impartial assessment in accordance with transparent criteria, will help ensure funds are received by those who need them most and programs achieve their stated outcomes.
I would like to thank the staff at Lotterywest and DLGSC for their cooperation and responsiveness to assist my Office during the audit.