The latest iteration of the Grants Administration Better
Practice Guide was released on 6 December 2013. It provides timely
reminders and best practice tips, highlights new priorities for the
Australian Government and addresses the ANAO audit reports that
have been released since the 2010 version of the Guide was
The new 2013 Guide emphasises three new priorities for agencies:
risk management, simplification and the achievement of
Managing risk is emphasised as part of each stage of the grants
process, from programme design through to post-completion
evaluation. Key issues to be aware of include:
moving away from a "set and forget" approach to risk
the role of proportionality in risk management, that is, the
greater the risk of project failure, the more framework and
oversight you need around it
seeking an appropriate level of verification and due diligence
around claims—at the application stage this may include
requiring written evidence of partner support, while during the
life of the project it may require sighting invoices, seeking
independent reports or conducting site visits to ensure milestones
are being met, and
identifying high risk projects early, through proper
monitoring, so that management strategies can be put in place
before risks escalate.
An "outcomes focus"
There is a renewed focus on whether, and to what extent, grants
programmes actually achieve their objectives. Agencies should
ensure that the desired outcomes are front of mind when designing a
programme and ask questions such as
Who is best placed to bring about the desired results?
Is a grant the best way to encourage this activity, or are
there other options?
Are the evaluation criteria designed to ensure that the
projects giving maximum benefit against the objectives are the ones
that will be funded?
This focus on outcomes should continue throughout the monitoring
and administration of grants, ensuring that real progress is made
at each stage of a project. At the conclusion of a project, the
tangible results should be verified before the final payment is
Agencies are being encouraged to streamline their procedures to
reduce the administrative burden of granting activities, both for
grant recipients and the Australian Government.
In particular, there is a focus on reducing duplication of
information and agencies should not request any information from a
grant recipient that it could obtain via other means (for instance,
from the ACNC in the case of not-for-profit entities)
Similarly, agencies should seek to leverage reports and other
documents that grant recipients are already required to prepare
(for instance, to meet their own internal governance requirements),
rather than insisting that the information be submitted in a
particular format or template document.
Simplification is likely to be an ongoing process, with the ANAO
foreshadowing future reforms in coming years.
To maximise compliance, the ANAO has sought to respond to some
recent judicial developments and recurring themes arising in ANAO
Recognising the increasingly common use of external panels of
subject matter experts to evaluate grant applications, agencies
include proper training to external assessors on the
requirements of the Commonwealth Grant Guidelines (noting that
where the experts are assessing individual applications, rather
than providing general or overarching advice, they are likely to be
performing a financial task for the purposes of the Financial
Management and Accountability Act
ensure all meetings are minuted and that appropriate
secretariat support is provided to external panels, and
provide proper probity guidance throughout the proceedings to
ensure the defensibility of the panel's decision-making.
Source of authority
Since the High Court's decision in Williams v Commonwealth
 HCA 23, it is clear that most grants will require a
legislative basis. Agencies should ensure they identify the
legislative source of the authority to conduct a programme at the
The source of authority will also impact on the review
mechanisms available to unsuccessful applicants: where the basis is
legislative, judicial review can be sought under the Administrative
Decisions (Judicial Review) Act. Where the basis is executive
power, this mechanism will not be available.
Stick to the guidelines
Although it may sound like common-sense, a number of recent
audits have identified problems arising because agencies have
departed from the procedures set down in the published programme
guidelines. This can seriously impact on the defensibility of a
grants process and, in some cases, could form the basis for an
applicant challenging a funding decision.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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