Immigration Minister accepts ‘unconcious bias’ problem as some religions favoured for grant funding

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Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Mr Hawke recognised there can be additional challenges faced by smaller community groups trying to engage with government programs.

“I think there can be unconscious bias in departments about issues in relation to different religions, I’ve spoken to my secretary about that,” he said. 

“We are constantly working to improve and train our officers about cultural awareness about all faiths, how they operate. Sometimes they’re different structurally compared to Western religions.

“We can make some improvements there.” 

The community safety fund was set up in 2016 and has seen eight selection processes across five rounds, with $184 million in grants awarded to 700 applicants. A sixth round is underway. 

The program was set up to address crime and anti-social behaviour by funding crime prevention initiatives such as fixed and mobile security cameras and lighting.

In 2019, following the Christchurch terrorist attacks, they were expanded to protect schools, pre-schools and community organisations facing security risks associated with racial and religious intolerance.

The Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) report, released on Monday, found that overall, 84 per cent of funding went to religious organisations.

But it said that while the distribution of applications and funding approved was “reflective of the population of applications received” in terms of electorates, funds largely went to Jewish or Christian community organisations. 

“Applications were received from, and consequently funding was largely awarded to, community organisations that identified as Jewish or Christian,” it says.  

“Relatively few applications were received from, and funding awarded to, community groups identifying as Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu or Sikh. 

“Identified cultural groups were also not well represented in terms of either applications received or grant funding awarded.” 

The report found that “over the life of the program there have been 16 different cultural groups that have applied for funding that have not had any funding awarded: Filipino, Iraqi, Italian, Russian, Assyrian, Chinese, Congolese, Fujian, Indian, Iranian, Korean, Kurdish, Malaysian,…