Donations and fast-tracked grants: National Retail Association and Peter Dutton under the microscope

Peter Dutton

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton.

The political dealings of the National Retail Association (NRA) have come under the microscope, after a report by the ABC found an $880,000 one-off grant from Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton’s office was fast-tracked just eight days after the association made a donation to support Dutton.

The NRA’s donation was made at an NRA-hosted event in Brisbane in 2018, which Dutton attended, and which was held for the purposes of NRA members being able to speak to the Minister.

“It was all about engagement with our members,” NRA chief executive Dominique Lamb told the ABC.

“To be perfectly honest with you, I was not ever aware that the Minister was considering the grant at that point in time.”

The event took place on November 21, and on November 29 Dutton’s office requested the NRA’s proposal, which resulted in the ‘Protecting Crowded Places’ program being “considered sooner”.

The program allowed the NRA to travel around the country and train up retail workers in what to do in the event of a terror attack, Lamb said in a statement to Inside Retail.

“In 2017, the federal government’s terrorism preparedness paper identified large retail centres as highly vulnerable to attacks,” Lamb said.

“Following the Burke Street Mall incident, the NRA put this proposal to government to train retail business owners and their staff in how to respond to the threat of an armed assailant.

“The federal grant allowed us to deliver that training, along with supporting resources, to 48,000 retail workers in 8000 face-to-face training sessions.”

In January 2017, six people were killed and 27 injured when a man deliberately drove his car into a crowded pedestrian crossing in Bourke Street Mall. The man was found guilty of six counts of murder and sentenced to life in prison.

The government’s Strategy for Protecting Crowded Places from Terrorism report notes “crowded places such as stadiums, shopping centres, pedestrian malls, and major events will continue to be attractive targets for terrorists”, and was one of the trigger points for the NRA’s program.

However, Dutton’s fast-tracking of the grant, which was done under the auspices of “national security and criminal justice”, has opened questions about a perceived conflict of interest according to legal experts.

“When the minister is exercising discretion to award a very large sum of money to a party, which only one week before had made a donation for his ultimate benefit, really there’s obvious room to infer a conflict,” Centre for Public Integrity director Geoffrey Watson SC told the ABC.

Ultimately, funding was granted by Dutton on March 14, 2019.

A further $5,000 was donated to Dutton later in 2019, though Lamb couldn’t confirm to the ABC when in the year this donation was made.

The grant has now been used up and acquitted by the department, the NRA confirmed, though it continues to provide training and resources on how to deal with a terror incident.

“Whenever there’s a terror-related incident in Australia, experts in politics and the media demand to know why more and not been done to prepare,” Lamb said.

“We are proud that the NRA has helped 48,000 people prepare for a future incident … We hope they will never need those skills.”

This is an edited version of an article first published by Inside Retail.

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