Armidale councillors have blamed "cynical" and "callous" pork-barrelling by the Commonwealth for a decision to short-change a needed safety project.
Deputy Mayor Debra O'Brien told the Leader the Armidale Regional Council had asked for $945,687 to add safety lighting and cameras to a high-crime part of town, near the University of New England.
Instead, in 2019 they won a grant of just $450,000 for security upgrades through the Commonwealth Safer Communities program.
The project has since been completed, but was held up due to the funding cut, Cr O'Brien said.
"The community was already very disturbed about this project due to the delays to it caused by the reduction in the grant. Now we have an explanation why we only got half the money, which is what caused the delay in the first place," she said.
"We didn't know why until today, until I saw the story in the media this morning. It was pork-barreling."
An ABC investigation yesterday revealed Home Affairs minister Peter Dutton had personally intervened to slash 19 grant approvals against the recommendation of public servants, after a merit-based application process.
The money saved was spent on a number of projects considered less merited by public servants, some of which were in marginal electorates. Two grants in a marginal Tasmanian electorate were announced as approved even before they were assessed - but before a crucial 2018 by-election.
Cr O'Brien said council had consulted with Armidale police on the project and they had recommended a regular walking and bike route in a dark-lit creek area near Girraween. The route is also heavily used by university students, another high-risk group, she said.
"It's the human face of pork barrelling; imagine if I'm too scared to walk down that road tonight from a lecture. That's the everyday impact that this guy's [Peter Dutton has] had," she said.
"I think ICAC must investigate further."
Councillor Margaret O'Connor also agreed the Commonwealth had engaged in "callous" and "cynical" "theft of funds from a very needy community basically in favour of pork-barreling".
"The context for us is that we're being very hard hit by the cost of the recent council merger," she said.
"We're very hard hit at the state level by cost shifting from the state government. And now to have approved grant funds stolen by the federal government, it's like being mugged in the park three times by government. That's how I feel. And then the victim being blamed for not having enough funding to take care of its community."
In a statement minister Dutton said it was "nonsense" to suggest government had done anything but back projects worthy of support.
"I am proud of the support the safer communities fund has provided to organisations such as the Scout Association, Salvation Army Trust and St Vincent de Paul who have made Australia a safer place," he said.
"Australians expect the Government to act to make the communities we live in safer. That is exactly what the Government has done through the safer communities fund."
New England MP Barnaby Joyce was unavailable for comment on Wednesday afternoon.
Inverell Shire Council also missed out on hundreds of thousands of dollars in grant funding, applying for $335,536 for new CCTV cameras and safety upgrades. They received just $200,000.