Truth behind Safer Communities Grants and Minister’s interventions: Fire-bombed Temple, Vandalised Church and Robbed Gurudwara

"It's not the power to intervene, it's the responsibility to serve and protect, and that's what I did. I protected these communities from harm's way, from robberies, vandalism, and threats."

Australian National Audit Office has tabled an audit report of the safer communities fund which was delivered by the then Minister of Home Affairs Peter Dutton.

Australia’s first TSOC Coordinator

This was the audit of the award of funding under the Safer Communities Fund (Rounds 1 to 5).

The Safer Communities Fund program implements a 2016 election commitment of the Liberal government.

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This program aims to improve security, reduce street crime and violence, and improve perceptions of community safety, thus leading to greater community resilience and wellbeing.

In its report, ANAO says, that there was no trend evident in terms of projects in electorates classified as Safe, Fairly Safe or Marginal.

It adds that this funding is most likely to have been approved in aggregate across the five open and competitive selection processes.

Such selection was conducted under the Safer Communities Fund and it is reported that any electorate information about potential grant recipients was not part of the selection criteria.

Image source: Kristina Keneally – Wikipedia.

In February 2021, the opposition’s home affairs spokesperson, Kristina Keneally levelled allegations of serious irregularities in the awarding of grants.

Ms Keneally wrote a letter to Grant Hehir, Auditor-General for Australia requesting him to consider examining the handling of the safer communities fund.

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What was the issue with the grants allocation:

As per the letter written by Ms Keneally to ANAO, her allegations were based on documents obtained by the ABC under the Freedom of Information Act 1984, which included:

  • An arbitrary reduction in funding to 19 organisations recommended for funding by officials who had undertaken a merit-based assessment process consistent with the Commonwealth Grant Rules and Guidelines and the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013.
  • A re-prioritisation of other grant recipients based on undisclosed criteria with no apparent regard for the outcome of the merit-based assessment process undertaken by officials.

So, what happened to the funding reduced from those 19 organisations recommended by officials and who were the recipients based on ‘undisclosed criteria’?

Case No 1:

Meet Biren Joshi, Director of Swaminarayan Mandir Vasna Sanstha (SMVS) Australia.

This SMVS Australia temple is one of the religious institutions based in the western suburb of Melbourne Tarneit (Address: 435 Davis Rd, Mount Cottrell, VIC 3024), who were recipients of this grant with the Minister’s intervention.

The Undisclosed criteria for Ministers intervention were:

The Temple has been targeted with vandalism and attacks damaging the property more than 10 times in the last 3 years. As a result of these attacks, there was a feeling of fear among community members who are concerned over the safety of their kids who attend the centre for religious and language learning.

Details of Incidents:

  • Temple has been gas bombed twice.
  • Fire has been lit in the main electrical switch board at night.
  • Robbed, vandalized, and broken into more than 10 times.
  • Ute was driven through the main wall of Temple damaging all the religious worship items.
  • Temple main entrance huge metal gate cut using metal cutter and stolen.
  • Temple regularly faces risk of attack, harassment or violence stemming from racial & religious intolerance.

  • Temple applied for Safer Communities Grant with detailed proofs, police reports and evidence and got rejected by the department.
Federal Assistant Minister for Multicultural Affairs Jason Wood; Picture Source The Australia Today
Federal Assistant Minister for Multicultural Affairs Jason Wood; Picture Source The Australia Today

After Assistant Minister for Safer Communities, Jason Wood’s intervention Temple received a grant amount of $450,000.

This funding means Temple congregation members can worship in peace and Temple can provide a safe place for families to practice faith.

Probably, Minister Wood shouldn’t have helped this Temple as there was no direct or indirect Political benefit to him or his party. This Hindu temple comes under the Federal Electorate of LALOR which is a safe seat of the Labor party with an almost 17+ per cent margin.

Image source: Joanne RYAN.

Ms Joanne RYAN is a Member of Parliament for Lalor who has visited the Temple once 4 or 5 years ago and recently once for a Diwali function.

Biren Joshi told The Australia Today, “We applied for the safer communities grant with all the proofs and police reports, only to be rejected by the department.”

“We did not understand why our application was rejected and then requested Minister Jason Wood’s office to help us protect our patrons.”

Mr Joshi says, “On our invitation, Minister Wood visited our Temple and heard the concerns directly from the members of our congregation. Our congregation members explained how fearful they were to attend religious worship in the evening as they are concerned and fearful for the safety of themselves and their children.”

Mr Joshi further added:

“We are thankful to the Federal Government and to Assistant Minister Jason Wood for listening our issues and for approving our application for the funding.”

Since then, SMVS Australia Temple has been able to build a fence around the property, are in process of upgrading security infrastructure including the installation of security lights around premises.

They hope to see in the future more such programs to provide a safe place of worship is approved without any bureaucracy.

If anyone still doubts attacks and vandalism on this Hindu Temple, They can go to Werribee and Tarneit police station where details of these acts are available. Anyway, the local MPs (Labor Party) were aware of the incidents and have provided letters of support for the grants.

Case No 2:

P.S.Dharmakufaraiah is President of TAMIL EDUCATIONAL CULTURAL & CHARITABLE ASSOCIATION (TECCA) which operates a Hindu Temple with the name “Kundrathu Murugan Kumaran Hindu Temple.”

Mr Dharmakufariah told The Australia today, “We are extremely sad and highly disappointed to understand that some politicians are implying that the Safer Communities grant we received is somewhat improper and not deserved.”

“My humble request is please come and visit our premises to get the real picture of what we went through when we had no boundary.”

Tamil Educational Cultural and Charitable Association were primarily established by Sri Lankan, Indian, Malaysian, Singaporean, Fijian and Mauritian Tamils. The main purpose of this temple is to provide cultural, and spiritual values of the Hindu faith, welcoming all to participate in religious, cultural festivals and programs.

Located in a recently created suburb called Deanside in Melbourne’s western suburbs.
Which incidentally is Labor Party’s so-called heartland.

This Hindu temple (Kundrathu Murugan Kumaran Hindu Temple) was ransacked and vandalised on three different occasions.

Their place of actual worship (Garbhgrah) was broken in, vandals destroyed the interior of the Temple and many valuable items were stolen.

All these incidents were reported to the local Police.

These horrific incidents left devotees fearful to come to the Temple after dark especially the children and females. As you may recall these grants were announced by the Federal Government on the backdrop of attacks on “Place of Worships.”

Mr Dharmakufariah says:

“We are dismayed and hard to comprehend with statement by those saying that assistant Minister intervention as a disgrace, for providing safer places of worship.”

Temple has been targeted with robbery, vandalism and attacks damaging the property more than 5 times between 2018 and 2019.

Temple members were regularly intimidated by criminals and gangs. There were incidents of dealers attempting to sell drugs to children. These intimidations, threats and attacks created fear among the Hindu community members for their families safety when they visited the Temple.

Brief Details of Incidents:

  • The Hindu community that used to attend this place of worship were constantly subject to racial/ religious verbal vilification.
  • This was often accompanied by numerous acts of littering, placement of messages with negative connotations towards Hinduism and statements of disrespect including damage to the front gate, letterbox and dumping of rubbish right in front of the entrance to sanctity.
  • When surveyed, over 90% of Temple community reported that they feel unsafe when they attend the religious site due reasons including feelings of intimidation and racial vilification from trespassers.
  • Many trespassers dispose of rubbish, harmful medical waste and construction material as frequently as 2-3 times a week throughout the entire temple premises. These incidences send a strong message of hatred towards our culture and place our community in harm’s way.
  • One particular incident involved the abandonment of a vehicle which was then incinerated. The fire spread placing the community in danger and caused much distress to the Temple community, as well a huge financial burden on the Temple members.
  • Trespassers and offenders used lurk the Temple grounds in the night, so women and children were always escorted by other Temple members to their vehicles safely to avoid any incidents against them.
  • All occasions, entry was made through the window. All occasions target was the safe and valuables. Valuables were either jewelleries and gold items in the statutes.
  • Window, main and side doors were damaged during the entry by thieves.
  • Cash till and computer systems, security systems were damaged.
  • One break in & entry to the Temple canteen and the Cash register in canteen was damagedduring robbery.
  • One occasion, garden shed with all valuable tools.
  • Temple regularly faces risk of attack, harassment or violence stemming from racial & religiousintolerance
  • Temple applied for Safer Communities Grant Round 5 with detailed proofs, police reports andevidence.

    Current Status: The Temple has built the security fencing so far covering 80% of brick wall completed. Security cameras 100% installed.
    Security lighting 95% completed.No robberies in the last 2 years since the construction and upgrade of security. This grant has helped provide a safe & secure enclosure for the Temple members.

In this case also after Assistant Minister for Safer Communities Jason Wood’s intervention Temple received a grant amount of $385,062.

Again, why did Minister Wood help this Temple as there was no direct or indirect Political benefit to him or his party?

This Hindu temple comes under the Federal Electorate of GORTON which is a safe seat of the Labor party with a large margin.

Image source: Brendan O’Connor – Vic Gov.

Brendan O’Connor is a Member of Parliament for GORTON who has visited the Temple once 10 years ago for the opening of the Temple.

Assistant Minister for Community Safety Jason Wood told The Australia Today, “Many of these places of worships have Priests and religious workers living in the premises, for them, there was always the fear of intruders who could harm them physically as well.”

Minister Wood further argued:

“It’s not the power to intervene, it’s the responsibility to serve and protect, and that’s what I did. I protected these communities from harm’s way, from robberies, vandalism, and threats.”

Ramesh Rao is a Hindu community leader in Melbourne. He told The Australia Today,

“We are dismayed with the statement by Labor spokesperson on government accountability Pat Conroy MP, Shadow Minister calling the Minister’s intervention as a disgrace, for providing a safer place of worship for the Hindus.”

Minister Wood says,

“When you see the damage to places of worship and hear first hand the fear of the congregation, that is something which cannot be written in mere words in a document and can only be experienced directly.”

“No one should be subjected to fear, let alone in their sacred place of worship, that is why the Morrison Government will always put safety and security first.”

Rishi Prabhakar is chairperson of Neighbourhood Watch Tarneit. He has been campaigning about community safety and the lack of resources in Melbourn’s West.

Mr Prabhakar told The Australia Today,

“Labor has always used Multicultural communties for their benefit, but when it comes to protecting them Labor goes absent.”

He further says, “West has been a place affected by robberies, and many of us live in fear, these Hindu Temples are some of the worst affected and still, Mr Albanese thinks they don’t deserve any protection. We invite Anthony Albanese to visit these Temples to see the issues faced by the community.”

“I have paid no attention at all as to who’s electorate it was, however, intervened with the best of intentions. I have the authority to do good for people under the commonwealth grants rules and guidelines and will not hesitate to do this all day every day,”

argues Mr Wood

In this respect Mr Wood says:

“I have no words for the lack of support demonstrated by Labor MPs who have failed to be a voice and stand up for multicultural communities in their own Labor electorates.”

Mr Rao says,

“The bureaucratic authorities may not fully understand the ground realities, grant application merits should be decided on the issues faced rather than the quality of language used to fill the applications.”

He adds, “These grants are necessary for the protection and safety of people who visit these places of worship. If Ministerial intervention has provided a safer environment to thousands of Hindus, we request the Minister to diligently intervene in all the applications with the department funding so many more can benefit in the future.”