Australia: Avoiding common mistakes in Commonwealth grants administration

Last Updated: 9 December 2012
Article by Alexandra Wedutenko and Lucinda Watson

Most Read Contributor in Australia, November 2017

Key Points:

Looking at some common mistakes in the administration of grants is a useful reminder of what not to do.

The Commonwealth Grant Guidelines July 2009 (CGGs) have provided Australian Government agencies with a valuable resource to help them effectively manage grants programs. They set out the policy framework, mandatory requirements for grants administration, and the seven best practice principles which agencies should observe. In particular, the CGGs focus on transparent and accountable decision-making processes. Officials performing duties in relation to grant administration must act in accordance with the CGGs.

Ultimately, of course, the managers of grants programs are only human, and mistakes are made. Audits conducted by the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) note improvements in agencies' practices and policies for grant administration, but also reveal some common mistakes, often caused by unforseen pressures on a program, such as changes to timeframes, policies, or structural changes to departments.

In this article we'll set out some of the more common mistakes in grants administration, and the best practice tips to help you avoid making them.

Best practice program guidelines

Common mistakes

  • Not having clear guidelines for grant award.
  • Issuing multiple program guidance documents and developing internal program guidelines, particularly if important information regarding the assessment methodology is included only in the internal administrative arrangements. While problems can be mitigated if all such documents are made publicly available, using multiple documents introduces the risk of inconsistency and makes it more difficult for applicants to access the appropriate information and provide a considered response.
  • Not giving applicants sufficient information in the guidelines, or not informing applicants of the importance of particular criteria, which will assist them in preparing their application.
  • Not clearly identifying assessment criteria or how value for money will be taken into account in the assessment.

Best practice tips

  • Establish clearly defined eligibility and merit criteria (and then use the criteria in the assessment process).
  • Provide clear and detailed guidance in relation to the assessment and selection process, and ensure the process is appropriately documented prior to receiving applications and conducting the assessment.
  • Where practical, develop a single reference point for policy guidance, administrative procedures, assessment criteria and evaluation strategies, noting that where more than one document is developed, all such documents will constitute program guidelines and therefore should be subject to appropriate approval.

Best practice assessment

Common mistakes

  • Deciding to accept incomplete applications, particularly where mandatory information was not provided, which ultimately led to a more challenging merit assessment process.
  • Using broad eligibility criteria, which make it more difficult for applicants to respond and for the agency to properly assess eligibility.
  • Approving applications for funding that have received relatively low scores against the merit criteria without explaining how those applications met the program's objectives and represented value for money.
  • Putting too much focus in the merit assessment process on the level of detail provided by applicants and deficiencies in documentation, rather than the value for money offered by the applications.

Best practice tips

  • While there is no requirement to notify applicants of weightings that apply to merit criteria, if there is a particular program objective of greater importance to others, provide applicants with an indication of importance of criteria, as this will help applicants to respond appropriately.
  • Document assessments against eligibility and merit criteria and provide reasons for all decisions taken, and provide clear links between the assessment of applications against the published criteria, an overall value for money assessment and the recommendation to the decision makers. Similarly, keep accurate and detailed records of committee meetings.

Best practice probity arrangements

Common mistakes

  • Retaining insufficient documentation to record key aspects of the decision making process, such as decisions to rank or shortlist applicants, or where records have been maintained of the assessment process, those records not addressing the merit criteria.
  • Records not indicating how declared conflicts of interest were considered and then managed, including whether committee members were involved in assessing applications for which they had declared a potential conflict.
  • Not involving the program's probity adviser at relevant times, such as during the assessment of applications, or following important steps set out in the probity plan, and not having probity advice received in writing or documented.

Best practice tips

  • Appropriately manage conflicts of interest, and maintain records of declared interests and their management strategies.
  • Maintain detailed records of all communications with applicants.
  • For high value and risk profile programs, the ANAO suggests that the appointment of an external probity adviser will provide agencies with greater assurance regarding the integrity of the assessment process for programs.

Other sources of scrutiny for grants administration

It is worth noting that, in addition to being audited by the ANAO, decisions in relation to the awarding of grants can be subject to external review, so agencies should ensure the usual rules of decision-making are also observed.

Decisions made under executive schemes can be reviewed by the Commonwealth Ombudsman. Although the Ombudsman cannot overturn a decision, the Ombudsman may make recommendations to the relevant agency or Minister and may publish a report on the findings.

Decisions made under legislation may be subject to judicial review (under the Administrative Decisions (Judicial Review) Act 1977), which would be a review of the decision-making processes (not the merits of the decision itself) to ensure the processes were fair.


Grants play an important role in the community – often part of achieving essential public policy objectives, providing financial benefits not otherwise available to recipients, and involving the use of significant amounts of public money. Maintaining a high standard of probity and transparency in grant administration benefits the applicants, the Government and the community.

Agencies should plan grant programs thoroughly to ensure the program will achieve desired objectives and to establish a fair and transparent process. Ultimately, this will assist in the smooth running of the grant program and will enable the agency to meet its overall objectives. A rushed program, on the other hand, where the process and criteria have not been thought out, may not meet program objectives and come back to bite the people who set it up.

You might also be interested in...

Clayton Utz communications are intended to provide commentary and general information. They should not be relied upon as legal advice. Formal legal advice should be sought in particular transactions or on matters of interest arising from this bulletin. Persons listed may not be admitted in all states and territories.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Some comments from our readers…
“The articles are extremely timely and highly applicable”
“I often find critical information not available elsewhere”
“As in-house counsel, Mondaq’s service is of great value”

Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:
  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.
  • Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.
    If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here
    If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq you may opt out by clicking here

    Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

    Use of

    You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


    Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

    The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


    Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

    • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
    • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
    • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

    Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

    Information Collection and Use

    We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

    We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

    Mondaq News Alerts

    In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


    A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

    Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

    Log Files

    We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


    This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

    Surveys & Contests

    From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


    If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


    From time to time Mondaq may send you emails promoting Mondaq services including new services. You may opt out of receiving such emails by clicking below.

    *** If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of services offered by Mondaq you may opt out by clicking here .


    This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to

    Correcting/Updating Personal Information

    If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to

    Notification of Changes

    If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

    How to contact Mondaq

    You can contact us with comments or queries at

    If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.

    By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions