House debates

Thursday, 27 February 2020

Matters of Public Importance

Commonwealth Grants Rules and Guidelines

3:17 pm

Photo of Tony SmithTony Smith (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

I have received a letter from the honourable member for Shortland proposing that a definite matter of public importance be submitted to the House for discussion, namely:

The need for the Government to apply the highest standards of due process and probity to spending decisions.

I call upon all those honourable members who approve of the proposed discussion to rise in their places.

More than the number of members required by the standing orders having risen in their places—

Photo of Pat ConroyPat Conroy (Shortland, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for International Development and the Pacific) Share this | | Hansard source

This is a corrupt government, and I don't use those words lightly. This is a government—

Photo of Tony SmithTony Smith (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

The member needs to withdraw that term. I can go to the Practice and take you through it.

Photo of Pat ConroyPat Conroy (Shortland, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for International Development and the Pacific) Share this | | Hansard source

I withdraw.

Photo of Tony SmithTony Smith (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

I'll just make the point—and I'll do it quickly, because the clock is ticking—that the Leader of the Opposition has referred to a corrupt program. You can't reflect on members. If you reflect on the government, you have the situation Speaker Sneddon had where each member of the opposition, as it was, asked for it to be withdrawn and you would have no time to speak. Thank you for withdrawing.

Photo of Pat ConroyPat Conroy (Shortland, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for International Development and the Pacific) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you for your guidance, Mr Speaker.

Photo of Pat ConroyPat Conroy (Shortland, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for International Development and the Pacific) Share this | | Hansard source

And your ruling, Mr Speaker. This is a government that has presided over corrupt programs that have used taxpayers' resources—

Government members interjecting

No, I didn't say the government was corrupt. You missed the point.

Photo of Llew O'BrienLlew O'Brien (Wide Bay, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The member for Tangney on a point of order.

Photo of Ben MortonBen Morton (Tangney, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister and Cabinet) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm a member of this government and I ask the member withdraw in making the assertion that this government has presided over corrupt programs.

Photo of Llew O'BrienLlew O'Brien (Wide Bay, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

He was referring to a program, as the Speaker just stated in his ruling.

Photo of Pat ConroyPat Conroy (Shortland, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for International Development and the Pacific) Share this | | Hansard source

This is a government that continues to preside over corrupt programs—corrupt programs that use taxpayers' resources to derive personal political benefit for members of the Liberal and National parties. You have to consider how this started. The scene was set in 2018, when after knocking off Malcolm Turnbull this was a desperate government. This was a government driven by division, a government with no agenda but holding onto power. So they turned to looking at any single program they could use to throw money for political benefit, to derive any political gain they could have from taxpayers' money. We've seen some of the most egregious rorting this nation has ever witnessed. We've seen rorting of the $100 million Community Sport Infrastructure Grant Program and the $150 million female facilities and water safety stream. We've seen rorting at Olympic scale and then we've seen them try to make Senator McKenzie the patsy, the fall guy for this, saying that she did it all, that she was entirely responsible for this rorting. But the truth is that we know there was a conspiracy led by the Prime Minister's office to corrupt this process for grubby political ends. We only have to look at the events of the last two days in question time to see that confirmed.

What are the details of sports rorts 1? We saw round 1, where 41 per cent of projects approved by the minister were not recommended by Sport Australia. The closer they got to the election, the more desperate they got; the more the Prime Minister tried to hold onto power by his fingernails. We saw 70 per cent of projects were rejected by Sport Australia. Round 3 was approved 17 minutes after we entered the caretaker period. Seventeen minutes after we entered the caretaker period, 73 projects were rejected by Sport Australia. It is not only that; we saw the ANAO decide the entire program is questionable in terms of its legality.

What sorts of projects were supported against Sport Australia's recommendations? What sorts of projects required the Prime Minister and the minister to say, 'We're going to support battlers. We're going to support battlers in struggling suburbs'? There was $50,000 for one of richest golf clubs in the country, Royal Adelaide, to install solar panels. I'm reliably informed that's about one annual membership. If they got one more member for the club, they could have paid for the solar panels themselves. There was $500,000 that went to the struggling Mosman Rowing Club—that bastion of battlers! The member opposite is from Wyong. I'm sure many members there go to Mosman rowers for a good row, maybe a chardonnay afterwards. And then there was $190,000 for another golf club to install facilities for wedding receptions. Wedding receptions! How is that advancing sports participation in this country? What it does advance is the naked political interests of those opposite. Then the most egregious—my favourite was $50,000 to the Sans Souci Football Club for a project not only already funded; it was already built and it was opened three days later by the council!

Photo of Linda BurneyLinda Burney (Barton, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Families and Social Services) Share this | | Hansard source

In whose electorate?

Photo of Pat ConroyPat Conroy (Shortland, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for International Development and the Pacific) Share this | | Hansard source

Good question! It happened to be in the Prime Minister's electorate. And it happened to be opened by one of the Prime Minister's mates who was a state member there.

Photo of Jim ChalmersJim Chalmers (Rankin, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Treasurer) Share this | | Hansard source

He doesn't have any mates.

Photo of Pat ConroyPat Conroy (Shortland, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for International Development and the Pacific) Share this | | Hansard source

That's true—I'm misleading the House. That's the most egregious example of this rorts project.

We saw further revelations only last week that, despite the Prime Minister misleading this House that all projects approved were eligible, the ANAO in fact found that 43 per cent of projects, 290 projects in all, were ineligible. Under this corrupt program, the interventions came at the top. We saw 136 emails from the Prime Minister's office. We saw revelations today that, in round 3, where 73 per cent of projects were rejected by Sport Australia, Minister McKenzie wrote to the Prime Minister asking for permission, identifying the projects she intended to approve, on 10 April—colour coded in a spreadsheet by party status. And then after, presumably, the Prime Minister approved the 73 per cent of projects, the backdated brief was received by the department at 8.46 am on 11 April, 17 minutes after the caretaker period began. And again we saw today the Prime Minister misleading the House, saying that the projects were approved on 4 April, when, in fact, the substance of the email to the Prime Minister makes it very clear that the minister hadn't approved the projects when she wrote to the Prime Minister on 10 April.

What's even worse—if you can believe that—is that yesterday the Prime Minister was bragging about the political intervention of his party and his candidates in this process. He openly bragged about the now member for Lindsay—who was merely a candidate at that stage—dictating which projects would go to Lindsay. She identified which projects would be approved. He bragged about it yesterday. We saw in the ANAO report that the Queensland Liberal National Party head office—the secretariat—dictated which projects were going to Longman. Just imagine that for a second: a party headquarters decided how taxpayers' money would be allocated in a seat they were trying to win at the election. Yet again, we've seen this program corrupted, and we've seen the Prime Minister openly bragging about the level of political intervention.

Then we have sports rorts 2, the $150 million for the female facilities stream. It was meant to be regional. It was meant to help regional sporting clubs invest in female changing rooms to increase female participation. What we saw was no guidelines for the program, no applications process, no eligibility criteria and no merits based assessment—only hand-picked projects, and the money being treated as a slush fund by the government. And what was the result? For a program meant to target rural and regional areas, 80 per cent of the money went to building swimming pools—not female changing sheds—in marginal electorates in the cities. Only 10 per cent went to rural and regional areas. And the most egregious example was the $10 million for the North Sydney Olympic Pool—that renowned regional area! They've been creative about trying to defend it, I'll give them that. The mayor of North Sydney claimed it was a regional pool because someone from the country might have once swum there. Just think about that for a minute. We had some jokes today that maybe if they had classified it as a dam, they might have got support.

An honourable member interjecting

Exactly—what a joke! What's next, the Sydney Harbour Bridge getting funding under the rural bridges program, or the Opera House getting support under a regional arts fund? This is how low this government has stooped. And the people who suffer are the people of Australia, particularly in those sporting clubs who are suffering. Garden Suburb Football Club in my electorate is turning away female soccer teams because the women need to get changed in the canteen or in their cars. These are the people who are suffering because this government presides over corrupted programs. These are programs run for one cause only: to advance their political interest. They are programs designed to misuse taxpayers' money—$250 million, in this case—to advance their political ends, to settle grubby political scores, and to win votes in a desperate bid to hold on to power after they knocked off their second Prime Minister. What a disgrace. And the Australian people are coming for them. The Australian people are sick of them. The Australian people will wreck on this in two years time. (Time expired)

3:27 pm

Photo of Ben MortonBen Morton (Tangney, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister and Cabinet) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on this matter of public importance. These are serious times and they call on serious people. And the member for Shortland's 10 minutes of fame is up. That was an amazing performance for the member for Shortland. But this government is focused on making important decisions on the issues that matter to Australians. And we can commit the funding needed to address the problems that this country faces because of the strong economic and fiscal budget that this government oversees. I'm going to run through a range of those issues and challenges that we're facing and that we're committing support to—and we're able to do that because of that strong fiscal and budget management of this government.

This country is in drought. Australian farmers have had to contend with a terrible drought and this government has stepped up to support them. The government's plan in relation to drought is to provide immediate help to directly help those people experiencing hardships, to help local communities find local solutions and to invest in long-term resilience measures. We're investing more than $8 billion in drought-relief work, including $1 billion announced since the election. I'm going to run through those spending initiatives, because that's what this matter of public importance is about. Firstly, Shane Stone is heading up the National Drought and North Queensland Flood Response and Recovery Agency, putting staff on the ground to make sure that our response is right. There's $47 million to extend the Drought Communities Programme to more councils, $20 million to help keep kids in school, and $5 million for child care. There's $1 billion worth of drought loans of up to $2 million, with no repayments and no interest for the first two years to make it cheaper for farmers to buy fodder, transport stock, build water infrastructure, agist cattle, mend fences and refinance their existing debts.

I see those opposite don't appear to be so interested in what the government is doing to respond to the needs of Australians when they need it. They were here for the performance and the theatrics of the member for Shortland, but they have disappeared.

The Australian government, in conjunction with the South Australian government, has struck a deal to secure 100 gigalitres of water that farmers can buy at a discounted rate if they are going to contribute to growing fodder with that water—120,000 tonnes of fodder, to help those drought affected communities get back onto their feet.

As we know, Australia has suffered from bushfires, and I have joined the Prime Minister in visiting individuals and communities that have been affected. This government has stepped up. This government has made responsible spending decisions to support those communities—not just those communities that are directly affected, but those communities and those economies that are also broadly affected in our economy. We take this job and this role very seriously.

There's $76 million to support the tourism recovery package, to encourage domestic and international tourism, to protect those jobs and small businesses in those economies right around Australia. There's an initial $100 million for a national clean-up package to assist those areas impacted by fire with site-clearing costs on all residences and commercial properties, with a fifty-fifty sharing arrangement with the affected states. There's $40 million to directly help the great work of those volunteer organisations like the Salvation Army Property Trust and St Vincent de Paul, who have been providing services in these communities. There's $10 million to deliver the financial counselling that is required in these communities. There's $100 million to provide grants of up to $75,000 to primary producers to deal with their immediate needs.

Mr Burns interjecting

While I hear some of those opposite yawn while I go through these support mechanisms that we're putting in place to support these communities, this is not something that we should disrespect—particularly funding like $2 million to Lifeline and, in particular, Kids Helpline; there's $8 million for back-to-school mental health. These communities that have been affected in these areas need the support that this government can give them, and we can only give them support, without introducing things like flood levies, because of the strong economic and fiscal management that this government presides over.

In relation to the issues that are currently facing this country, there is the very serious issues of the coronavirus. Our first responsibility is to protect the Australian people, and that is exactly what this government is doing. This morning, while the Prime Minister and members of the National Security Committee were meeting, talking about our response to the coronavirus, their meetings were interrupted by the parliamentary parlour games of those opposite.

Photo of Brian MitchellBrian Mitchell (Lyons, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Then stop gagging debate!

Photo of Ben MortonBen Morton (Tangney, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister and Cabinet) Share this | | Hansard source

You, members opposite—

Photo of Llew O'BrienLlew O'Brien (Wide Bay, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Members on my left!

Photo of Ben MortonBen Morton (Tangney, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister and Cabinet) Share this | | Hansard source

knowing that the Prime Minister, the Attorney-General, the Minister for Health and other members of the National Security Committee were in the cabinet room discussing Australia's response to the coronavirus, were playing political parlour games and distracting those ministers and the Prime Minister from doing their job of keeping Australians safe. Shame on you! Spending decisions will come as we respond to the health and economic needs of Australians in responding to the coronavirus, and this government will stand ready, because we are strong economic and fiscal managers of our economy.

I am going to share with you some of the areas that I am most excited about. In my responsibility as Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister and Cabinet, I lead our government's deregulation agenda. As part of that, I'm responsible for the Office of Best Practice Regulation, and we have made some announcements recently in relation to the regulatory impact analysis framework, and I'm going to share those with you today. The regulatory impact statement or RIS process helps the government navigate the complex policy challenges where there are changes in the behaviour of businesses or individuals. These RISs, or the impact analysis settings, allow us to make sure that we are making decisions that are fit for purpose.

We have made decisions to simplify the process for policymakers. The previous four categories of the regulatory impact statements will be condensed into one, with the level of analysis to be proportionate to the magnitude of the problem and the potential impacts. To ensure the effort put in by agencies is more accurately recognised, there will be four levels of quality assessment: insufficient, fit for purpose, good practice and exemplary. They should all aim for exemplary; that is what our expectation is of them.

To ensure the focus on regulatory costs doesn't come at the expense of understanding economic and competition impacts of new proposals, agencies will still be required to include the regulatory or red tape costs in a RIS. However, the Office of Best Practice Regulation will no longer be required to agree to these costs in isolation. We will also task the Office of Best Practice Regulation, which oversees the government's RIA settings, to assess independent reviews, which can substitute for regulatory impact statements, for relevance to the problem and the recommended policy option. Well-designed, well-targeted, limited and fit-for-purpose regulation supports the government to deliver our agenda and priorities effectively. While those opposite might not be interested in the regulatory impact statements that are so important to better decision-making in government, this government is committed to making sure that these processes are fit for purpose.

The hypocrisy of those opposite knows no bounds. We're asked about government spending. I refer you to the Auditor-General's report that found that when the Labor leader, the member for Grayndler, was administering programs as infrastructure minister, he disproportionately gave money to Labor seats. The ANAO report in 2011 found ministers waived the eligibility criteria for projects funded by Labor's Regional and Local Community Infrastructure Program, and that a number of projects in coalition seats did not get funding. The ANAO report reads:

... whilst the majority of applications received related to projects located in a Coalition held electorate (55 per cent of all applications), the significant majority (some 82 per cent) of these were not approved for funding…

… whilst 40.3 per cent of all applications related to a project in an ALP held electorate, just under 60 per cent of approved projects were in an ALP held electorate.

The report also found that Mr Albanese's own office had set out the projects by electorate:

In addition to the data originally provided by the department, two new columns were added to the worksheet to identify the electorate in which the project was located, and the political party that held that electorate.

That's what the report said. The hypocrisy of those opposite knows no bounds. On days when the parliament and the Prime Minister are dealing with issues relating to the safety of Australians, those opposite play political parlour games in this House as opposed to allowing the government to get on with the business of government. (Time expired)

3:37 pm

Photo of Matt KeoghMatt Keogh (Burt, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Defence Industry) Share this | | Hansard source

It's great to see that the government's defence of its sports rorts program fundamentally comes down to, 'Somebody else did it too!' Putting aside the fact that everything you just said is wrong, your defence effectively amounts to, 'Other people have done it.' You're admitting your own problem.

Let's look at what this MPI boils down to. It is really interesting to see that the minister opposite at the table has decided to oppose, effectively, a proposition that government should apply the highest standards of due process and probity to its spending decisions. He's then gone on and proceeded to rattle off a number of spending amounts in programs, the majority of which are very meritorious. In fact, the sports program, when you read it as a headline number and what they were supposed to be funding, is very meritorious, but the projects that were funded were not meritorious. That's the fundamental program that we've got. In fact, some of them were not even eligible to receive the funding.

I go to this point because the member opposite did. He talks about the very significant and important funding that is going to support those in need of drought relief and fire relief. It is important that those funds are allocated; it is important that those funds are there. But what's actually important is that the funds flow to the people who need them. I have met and spoken with those businesses affected by the bushfires in the Blue Mountains and elsewhere in New South Wales. I have found that businesses that need access to loan funds to get through this period where they've had a decline in their business—as tourists are not going to those areas—are not getting the help that they need. They're not getting the money from the government. It's taking weeks for applications to even be acknowledged. Then further information is required. That money is not flowing to those people. It's great that you mentioned a headline figure. We completely support that idea. But, when it comes to due process and making sure that the money does what it's designed to do, you're not actually delivering on that for the Australian people. We want to see that system work, but it's not happening.

When it comes to the high standards that we would expect, it's not just 'we' the opposition, it's 'we' the Australian people. We want to see not only transparent guidelines and a fair process but also decision-makers following those guidelines. There's an idea! How about ministers accept the advice about programs, not only that they're meritorious—that'd be a good start—but that they're actually eligible for the money that is supposed to be flowing to those organisations.

Regarding sports rorts 1—and isn't it amazing that we have to give version numbers now because we're into multiple sports rorts under this government—the $100,000 Community Sport Infrastructure Grants Program which was supposed to be assessed meritoriously and was supposed to help community sports programs around the country, I just want to read some of the observations that the ANAO made, because it's really, really important:

… the Minister's Office used the spreadsheets ... to undertake a parallel assessment process as a basis for the Minister deciding which projects should be funded with additional analysis on 'marginal' electorates held by the Coalition as well as those electorates not held by the Coalition that were to be 'targeted' in the 2019 Election …

When it comes to looking at guidelines and meritorious programs and making sure that people receive the benefit of the doubt, I elucidate this from the submission of the City of Gosnells in the electorate of Burt, my electorate, for a program that they applied for—a program that was ranked in the top 50 meritorious sport grants by Sport Australia—which did not receive money because of decisions made by this government. This should ring in your ears. The city's application presented over 17 pages of information and six supporting documents. It's estimated the application took over 80 hours to prepare. The City of Gosnells does give you the benefit of the doubt, government, because they say they 'understand that the federal minister may apply some discretion in decision-making. However, if funding bodies require detailed and professional applications, the City would expect professional and objective decision-making.' Well, it appears that, under this government, the only objective of their decision-making was to rort the system so that they could see themselves win an election and return to power. That was the only objective that was being pursued, and not just by the sports minister at the time but, quite clearly, by the Prime Minister's office.

When you've got 136 emails in six months about this program, when you are seeking approval from the Prime Minister about where money will be allocated the day before the election and then approval is given after the election is called, it's a rort.

3:43 pm

Photo of Scott BuchholzScott Buchholz (Wright, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for Road Safety and Freight Transport) Share this | | Hansard source

It's a great pleasure to speak on the matter of public importance today, where the opposition have highlighted the need for the government to apply the highest standards of due process and probity in spending decisions. There is no greater probity and oversight than we have in road safety and some of the programs that I have direct oversight of. Road safety is such an important part. It's one of the rare issues that have bipartisan support in this place. Throughout each of the states in this country, there is a road safety committee set up which is chaired by a government member.

To put it in context: roughly, each committee would have a member from each state police jurisdiction and it would have, more than likely, someone from the Local Government Association. In every situation, you would have a royal automobile club represented on that body. Then you've got the fringe groups that could potentially be there, ranging from parents and friends associations, bicycle associations, pedestrian associations and motorcycle associations. They scatter through. They look over a period of matrixes to offer a list of where government funding should be prioritised. That level of probity and that level of consideration and consultation with the public is how I conduct road safety programs in the country.

In addition, we have a $4.5 billion program called Roads of Strategic Importance, with just under $2 million of that quarantined for northern Australia. We have done, again, some of the most comprehensive consultation right across the top of northern Australia, and as we speak there are—as there were last week—further consultation processes with regional councils along the primary corridors that we have identified. We want to make sure that we park these significant investments into the next decade in the places they are most needed, and in order to do that we throw a wide net when we're sourcing where the priorities are. We throw that wide net with our partners, with local government, with communities, and with stakeholders like the construction and the engineering firms, to make sure that we get those investments right. And it's not an infinite bucket, but we do try to make sure that we have a process where—

Photo of Brian MitchellBrian Mitchell (Lyons, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Do you use colour-coded spreadsheets?

Photo of Scott BuchholzScott Buchholz (Wright, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for Road Safety and Freight Transport) Share this | | Hansard source

Absolutely—colour-coded. They're my favourites! I want to bring up, in the few minutes left for me to speak, the opening comments of the good member for Burt, where he referred to a sports program as a 'rort'. He referred to it as a 'rort'. I thought that was a little unfair, given that we have such high integrity on this side of the House and given that I've highlighted a number of programs that we have conducted with the highest integrity.

So I want to help out those opposite. I want to help out, so listen closely. Bring your ear to the microphone, I say. We have this thing called the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity, which detects, disrupts and deters corrupt conduct in Australian law enforcement agencies. So, if you think that there's a case to be heard, consider making a complaint to them. The Australian Federal Police also works with partner agencies across the Commonwealth to respond to serious and complex corruption offences, including fraud and bribery. So, if it's a serious offence, that's a place where you could park your concerns. There's the National Audit Office, which scrutinises the exercise of authority by the government. There's also the Commonwealth Ombudsman, which considers and investigates complaints by people who believe they have been treated unfairly by Australian government departments. And, of course, there's the Independent Parliamentary Expenses Authority.

But I would suggest that none of those agencies that I just referred to are going to hear a word from those on the other side, because they know that this government is of the highest integrity, and we run our programs with integrity, exactly as they all deserve.

3:47 pm

Photo of Kate ThwaitesKate Thwaites (Jagajaga, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I note even government members opposite couldn't keep a straight face when talking about their level of integrity.

An opposition member: That's right, and that says it all.

It does say it all, doesn't it? I really want to talk today about the sports rorts and about what that means in my community in Jagajaga. In Jagajaga, we've got more than 100 sporting clubs. We love our sports. Every time I am out and about, people tell me how busy they are caring for their club and playing on a Saturday—and how they need new facilities and how they're stretched and how they need some funding support. Do you know what the Greensborough Hockey Club did through the Nillumbik shire? They applied for some funding support. They applied for some funding support through a now-famous funding sports grants program. They were rated by Sport Australia as quite deserving of this funding. In fact, they received 89 out of 100.

An opposition member: Eighty-nine?

Yes, they did. The Greensborough Hockey Club, a great hockey club run by some great people, were found to be very deserving of their new pavilion—$500,000. Now, imagine their surprise when they didn't receive this money. And we now know why they didn't receive this money. They didn't receive this money because this government is more interested in rorting, it's more interested in playing political games with taxpayer funds, than it is in supporting local sporting clubs.

I've got a direct contrast here, in fact. A constituent of mine called my office late in January. His son played for the Toorak East Malvern Hockey Club. They share a facility with the Hawthorn Hockey Club in the wealthy, leafy electorate of Kooyong next door. This, of course, is the Treasurer's seat.

Now, my constituent is quite involved in the affairs of the Toorak East Malvern Hockey Club. On 26 April last year, during the caretaker period, he received an email from this club's leadership. He, along with all the other teams and players, received this email inviting him along to an 'urgent additional training event' that night. They were told to wear their full club uniforms. When they got there, it was for a photo-op with their local member, the member for Kooyong, who announced $500,000 for a club pavilion redevelopment—during the caretaker period. There you go! So, Greensborough Hockey Club rated 89 out of 100—no funding. Next door in Kooyong—$500,000. Do you know what they were rated by Sport Australia?

Photo of Andrew GilesAndrew Giles (Scullin, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Cities and Urban Infrastructure) Share this | | Hansard source

No, what, Kate?

Photo of Kate ThwaitesKate Thwaites (Jagajaga, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Sixty-three out of 100. A process is set up and there's work done under that process—to rate these clubs, to look at what's needed, who's doing the work, where clubs need extra support—and that's thrown out the window by this government. A very wealthy part of Melbourne, where facilities are, as this club member said, already 'first-class', receives funding. In my electorate—because they had the gall to elect a Labor member—they were overlooked.

The La Trobe hockey club is one of the most run-down—I think that's how they described it—clubs in the country. They have asbestos in their club rooms, no lighting, no female change facilities, no canteen. In fact, their vice-president described their clubs as 'looking like the place they filmed Chernobyl in'. You get the picture. They missed out. The member for Cooper and I share a boundary, and I know the member for Cooper has been fighting very hard for this club but, again, compare and contrast: member for Kooyong—his facility rated 63 out of 100—$500,000 in funding. In my electorate—the Greensborough Hockey Club, rated 89 out of 100—no funding.

This really goes to the heart of the problem with this government—and Australians see it. That's why my constituents are ringing up my office and telling me, 'This stinks!' They know and the people who are members of this club know that what that government is doing is wrong. They thought they were getting a leader. Instead, they've got a marketing man spending taxpayers' money outside the rules with no probity and no proper process. And when he's called out on it, what's the response? Is he looking at how he might raise standards? Is he thinking about how people are a bit disappointed with him and that he could do better? No, none of this. Instead, he points across the room and he says, 'It's okay, because that guy over there did it first.' Well, that's not the case, but what a response! I think we all found out in grade 1 that pointing out across the room and saying, 'Mum, I was just copying him!' is not an excuse. You're the Prime Minister. Have some standards. Get some guts. Do it right. Follow the process. Australians expect that of you.

3:52 pm

Photo of Julian SimmondsJulian Simmonds (Ryan, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm pleased to have the opportunity to debate this particular MPI today because it gives a perfect example of what this side of the House—the government—is focused on this week versus what Labor members are focused on. What have the Labor members been focused on this week? Playing silly parliamentary games. They probably had a few other things on. I'm sure the member for Hunter probably went for dinner at Otis at some point during the week, as did a bunch of other Labor members. But mostly the Labor members have been focused on political games.

What have the government members on this side of the chamber been doing? We have been focused on the Australian people. We've been delivering the spending commitments that deliver on their priorities: dealing with the drought, dealing with fire recovery, dealing the coronavirus response, establishing flexible parental leave, helping to lower electricity prices, helping to keep our borders strong, lowering taxes, listing new PBS medicines. We know how to take proper spending decisions with due process and probity.

We won't take lectures from the Labor members opposite on due process and probity when it comes to spending decisions. Do they all have such a short memory that they don't remember the last time they were in government? Cash for clunkers, cheques for dead people, pink batts, school hall funding that didn't actually deliver school halls in particular schools. Is that Labor's idea of due process and probity when it comes to spending decisions? I suspect it is. And while that's Labor's idea of good spending priorities, it's certainly not this government's idea of it. But do you know what? Let's give them the benefit of the doubt. Let's not talk about the last time they were in government. Let's talk about these members and what they are doing right now.

We introduced the ensuring integrity bill into this place—a bill to ensure that registered organisations do the right thing and work for their members to make sure registered organisations, like unions, practice due process and probity exactly like this government. What did the Labor members do? They ran a protection racket for them. 'Unions shouldn't have to meet those high standards. No, no, no. Government has to, but unions definitely shouldn't!' It went to the Senate, and Labor's Senator Glenn Sterle said this: 'We should not be rushing legislation to try and prosecute union officials who have to break the law sometimes to get an outcome.' Let me just say that again: 'who have to break the law sometimes to get an outcome'. What kind of laws are they breaking? Well, they're probably around due process when it comes to spending decisions. But, more than that, the type of laws they're talking about breaking to get an outcome are coercion, bullying, intimidation, unlawful strikes, unlawful accesses, stoppages, and spitting on and assaulting female police officers. This stuff is disgraceful. Labor members opposite run a protection racket and then pretend to lecture this government on integrity. Well, no, we're not copping a bar of that.

They could've come in here and talked about the priorities that Australians and Australian families have like this government does every day and that we are acting on every day. But instead they choose to play their silly political games. The hypocrisy is absolutely galling because, as we have heard previously from the member for Tangney, who pointed this out, they are talking out of the other side of their mouth. The member for Ballarat presided over Labor's local grants program. The Auditor-General found out that she approved projects against the recommendations of experts. But it's unfair of members on this side of the chamber to single out the member for Ballarat, because she's in great company, holding hands with, of course, the member for Grayndler, who was minister for infrastructure at the time. Let's see if this rings any bells when I read from the Audit Office report for the Labor members opposite. This is what the Audit Office had to say about the now Leader of the Opposition:

    …   …   …

    … projects located in electorates held by the Australian Labor Party (ALP) and Independent Members were more successful at being awarded funding than those located in electorates held by the Coalition parties.

    (Time expired)

    3:57 pm

    Photo of Julie OwensJulie Owens (Parramatta, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

    My electorate of Parramatta does not have a swimming pool. We had one, but the state government ripped it out of the ground to build something else. Years later, we've just been through the hottest summer on record without a pool. We're 60 per cent born overseas. Many of the people in my electorate, including the children, were raised in places where swimming lessons were not an option. There are adults who can't swim and teenagers who can't swim, and we have lost our pool. They applied under what is known as the 'community sports program', better known as the 'sports rorts program', and they got 83 out of 100 when assessed by the department. They were No. 16 on the list, and were they funded? No, because this government has rorted the process. The corruption of the process is appalling. If you look at the figures, 73 per cent of the projects that were funded were not on the list that came from the department. Forty-three per cent of them weren't even eligible, yet my electorate and its swimming pool—No. 16—are not even there. It's gone. There is no funding for a community in extraordinary need.

    The Prime Minister has stood up in this place and said, 'Ah, but it was within the rules.' Now, let's leave aside that it wasn't within the rules. The National Audit Office clearly says it wasn't. Anyone with half a brain can see that it wasn't in the rules. But let's assume for a minute that it was. When you get to be the Prime Minister and you're the prime rule-maker, you do not get to use the rules as a shield. If what you want to do is unethical, if it's not the best use of taxpayers' money and it's in the rules, then you change the rules because that's your job. Your job as the Prime Minister is to make sure that taxpayers' money is well spent. If what this government did is within the rules, then you should be slammed for not changing them, quite frankly. This is not okay.

    This is not the only place in which the Parramatta pool was ignored. It's not the only one. There was another fund which has come to light now, which is the $150 million female facilities and water safety stream program. Again, many organisations in my electorate don't have female change rooms for their state top 10 rugby teams or cricket teams at all. Let's leave that aside. We also don't have a swimming pool, and yet the guidelines for this program weren't even released. However, $60 million, or 40 per cent of the program's funding, was spent in two Liberal-held seats and 80 per cent of it—even though it was a regional program—was spent in city electorates on swimming pools but not in Parramatta.

    Parramatta wouldn't have applied for it, because the guidelines weren't even released. The guidelines weren't released, and Parramatta is not in a region so it wouldn't have even been in the page of projects to be assessed. This is done behind closed doors within electorates that the government wishes to win. Based on a wink, wink, nudge, nudge: 'Apply for this; you'll get the money.' How is that fair? How could that possibly be in any set of rules that any reasonable, responsible government set? How could that possibly be okay?

    This is taxpayers' money, and the process that you set in place should be transparent, it should be public, it should be known and it should be fair. And neither of these programs were anything like that. This is: 'We, the government, will use taxpayers' money to get ourselves elected.' That is clearly what it is. When the vast majority of money is going to marginal seats that the coalition are targeting, then that is what is happening. When money is being spent behind closed doors and the vast majority of electorates that aren't Liberal-held electorates don't even know it's going to be spent, that is a government that is using taxpayers' money to get itself elected.

    I can't say that this government is corrupt—I can't say that in this place, and I won't—but this process is corrupt. If this process is within the rules, then have a hard look at yourselves because you are lousy rule-makers. I'll say it again: if you're the rule-maker, you don't get to hide behind the rules. You made the rules. If what you're doing is unethical and is not the best use of taxpayers' money, then change the rules and set the rules right now so that it can't happen again. This is outrageous. My pool and my community have lost out because of the rort and the corrupting of the process by this bunch of heaven-knows-what on the other side of the House.

    4:03 pm

    Photo of Bridget ArcherBridget Archer (Bass, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

    I think it's interesting that the Labor Party is in here claiming the moral high ground when it comes to standards of due process and probity, but their own record tells a very different story. You only need to look at where they stand on law-breaking unions. There are a number of significant infrastructure projects rolling out in the northern Tasmanian community in Bass, and we can't afford for rogue unions to affect their rollout.

    Infrastructure spending is proving to be a key creator of jobs, a driver of business confidence and a means to support an ever-growing community with diverse needs. In my electorate of Bass, just some of the millions of dollars committed to my fantastic community include the northern suburbs community hub—a $15 million investment which will include offices for community organisations and provide pathways for employment and recreational opportunities for young people; the Beauty Point master plan—$3 million towards a project spearheaded by the West Tamar Council to drive tourism growth; or the UTAS redevelopment—the federal government is investing $160 million into the relocation of the University of Tasmania to its new location at Inveresk. It is the single-largest infrastructure project in our city's history and it will create more than 800 jobs.

    Despite what Labor would have us believe, we know that some unions are disruptive and engage in behaviour that is detrimental to those that they claim to represent and their communities. In fact, Master Builders Australia estimates that union lawlessness can add up to 30 per cent to the cost of our vital infrastructure like roads, schools and hospitals. Just last week I met with a significant number of construction workers in my community. I noted their excitement in regard to the growth of industry in the region. That's why the government's ensuring integrity bill is so important. Nobody is above the law, and that includes registered unions and employer groups. To be very clear, I have no problem with unions if they are operating in the manner in which they are intended to. I expect them to act in the best interests of their members and obey the law, which most do. However, I certainly support cleaning up the ones that don't, and that's what this bill is designed to do. The bill would introduce additional deterrents into the law to prevent the sort of repeated serious and damaging law-breaking engaged in by a militant minority of registered organisations and their officials and ensure that the courts are able to take appropriate and effective action in response to this sort of law-breaking.

    Just in case you need some reminding, the Heydon royal commission also uncovered numerous examples of flagrant disregard for the law by some registered organisations and their officers; and a culture of lawlessness, which is not new and has been exposed for over 30 years and continues to make national headlines. For instance, over $17.2 million in penalties have been handed down by the courts against the CFMMEU and its representatives for over 2,000 contraventions of the law. That is just in cases brought by the building industry watchdog and its predecessors. This law-breaking includes bullying; harassing and intimidating workers who exercise their right not to join a union, including stopping them from being able to work at all; intimidating public servants, including work health and safety inspectors, fair work inspectors, building inspectors and a female police officer; and coercing businesses through industrial lawfare tactics, including those which put workers in danger. We won't sit back and do nothing, as those opposite are wont to do, which is perhaps understandable on their account when you consider that almost $14 million was pumped into the Labor coffers by unions in 2018-19. However, those of us in government actually recognise—

    Opposition Members:

    Opposition members interjecting

    Photo of Llew O'BrienLlew O'Brien (Wide Bay, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

    Can members on my left tone it down a little bit? I'm finding it hard to hear the member speaking.

    Photo of Bridget ArcherBridget Archer (Bass, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

    Thank you, Deputy Speaker. I was speaking fairly loudly! The courts need other options to ensure that the repeated law-breaking engaged in by this militant minority is stopped. It is very important to note that there's nothing in the bill that will prevent a registered organisation from exercising its rights to represent workers, including investigating underpayment issues or acting on work health and safety concerns, but, for the protection of workers in our communities and the integrity of unions, this bill is essential. Those opposite claim that what this MPI boils down to is integrity— (Time expired)

    4:08 pm

    Photo of Josh BurnsJosh Burns (Macnamara, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

    Fancy defending a position that the government has on integrity and accountability with a bill that they didn't allow any accountability for in this place, the ensuring integrity bill. Do they even listen to themselves speak? It is absolutely astounding that the government would use that as a defence of this sports rorts scandal. This stinks. The sports rorts scandal stinks and the fish rots from the head. Over there, with their born-to-rule attitude, they are very happy turning taxpayer funds into the Liberal Party coffers.

    They've done this before. In an area that is underfunded in this country, the arts, years and years ago George Brandis took money out of the Australia Council and put it into the Catalyst fund. The thing that everyone knew was that only George Brandis could decide where that funding went. Instead of having an independent oversight agency that actually helped fund cultural policy in this country, George Brandis wanted his own slush fund for the arts in this country. It was a disgrace. It has decimated the industry and cost jobs. We as Australians are lesser for it.

    If you want to know about the character of those opposite, especially the man who sits in the chair up the front, you only have to look at the character they displayed during the bushfires over summer. When our country needed leadership, what they got was a Liberal Party ad. When our country needed leadership, the Prime Minister said, 'Australians, you should donate to the Liberal Party for our bushfires.' And instead of having accountability and oversight for $100 million—$100 million of taxpayer funds—they turned the bushfires into a Liberal Party ad and they've turned taxpayer dollars into a Labor Party slush fund. That's what this government does.

    Let's go into the resignation of Bridget McKenzie. Senator McKenzie resigned over the $100 million sports rorts scandal. But she didn't resign because of the reasons why she should have resigned. She resigned because apparently she forgot to declare that she was a member of a gun club. But the reason why she should have resigned is all the reasons that are being drip fed out right now—that this process was corrupt, that this process stinks and that the $100 million of taxpayer funds used by those opposite where for Liberal Party purposes. That's why Senator McKenzie should have resigned, and that's why those opposite I'm sure are taking a good, hard long look at the Prime Minister right now, who couldn't reveal any details during question time because he knows that he is in strife. That man is under pressure, and we all know it in this place.

    In McNamara we have some outstanding local sporting clubs and at Caulfield Park, under the governance of the Glen Eira City Council, we are absolutely chockers. There is not an inch of that park that doesn't get used. We have over 20 soccer teams on a waiting list to get into that park. We have so many clubs who are sharing that facility. It is a community facility, and of course the Glen Eira council, along with all of the sporting clubs, put in an application, and this story has been told. But let's have a guess of the rating that the Glen Eira council received.

    Photo of Libby CokerLibby Coker (Corangamite, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

    Was it 50?

    Photo of Josh BurnsJosh Burns (Macnamara, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

    It wasn't 50.

    Photo of Kate ThwaitesKate Thwaites (Jagajaga, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

    Was it 60?

    Photo of Josh BurnsJosh Burns (Macnamara, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

    It wasn't 60.

    Photo of Joanne RyanJoanne Ryan (Lalor, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

    What it 70?

    Photo of Josh BurnsJosh Burns (Macnamara, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

    No, more than 70.

    Photo of Kate ThwaitesKate Thwaites (Jagajaga, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source


    Photo of Josh BurnsJosh Burns (Macnamara, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

    No. Keep going! It was 83 out of 100. I tell you what: at university I would have been happy with 83 out of 100! And what did our government give them? Absolutely nothing. They gave us more of the same, and now we have got 136 reasons as to why this Prime Minister is up to his neck in this horrible, horrible scheme.

    In question time today we saw the Prime Minister clearly under pressure. We saw a Prime Minister who was clearly reading the notes written to him by some sort of legal adviser. He was really nervous. He was nervous! The Prime Minister was shaking with his notes written by his lawyer—by Lionel Hutz!

    The Prime Minister and this government have promised a National Integrity Commission. They promised the National Integrity Commission.

    Photo of Kate ThwaitesKate Thwaites (Jagajaga, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

    Where is it?

    Photo of Josh BurnsJosh Burns (Macnamara, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

    We haven't seen it, and now we see why. All they want to do is distract, because these people are afraid of transparency. These people are afraid of integrity. These people are afraid of accountability, and most of all these people are afraid of our democracy and they are afraid of the Australian people. And this program stinks. (Time expired)

    4:13 pm

    Photo of Pat ConaghanPat Conaghan (Cowper, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

    I'm happy to speak on this motion: the need for the government to apply the highest standards of due process and probity to spending decisions. The Australian government is obliged to provide the highest standards of due process and probity to spending decisions and service delivery because we're caretakers in the expenditure of the public's money. We must account as MPs to all our constituents. I have 125,000. I represent Cowper, and I'm ensuring that their taxes are well spent and managed with a great degree of probity and care. We, as MPs, also need to report to them so that they receive their fair share and that this government's services meets their needs.

    The Morrison-McCormack government does this by taking a multiagency approach to combat corruption. These agencies have specialised roles and responsibilities in deterring, detecting and responding to corruption. The key word here is responsibility—the ability to respond and enforce with authority, and consistently apply these highest standards. These institutions are designed for governance—important governance. They include parliamentary committees, government departments, independent statutory authorities and law enforcement agencies.

    The Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity, for example, detects, deters and disrupts corrupt conduct in Australian law enforcement agencies. In recent times, I went to New Zealand and Vanuatu on a delegation and examined those countries' measures in enforcing their laws to deter corruption. I take this opportunity to welcome the new commissioner, Ms Jaala Hinchcliffe. I'm told her appointment comes at a key time for the commission. One investigation Ms Hinchcliffe will undertake is the examination of the alleged potential corruption through Crown Resorts and the home affairs department. Starting work on this high-profile case shows that Ms Hinchcliffe means business in upholding probity and integrity in government to benefit all Australian people.

    There is the Australian Federal Police, which partners with the state agencies across the Commonwealth in response to serious and complex corruption offences, which also includes fraud and foreign bribery. One recent high-profile case that the AFP worked on in conjunction with the military inspector-general was investigating Australian soldiers' actions in Afghanistan to ensure the laws of combat were upheld. I'll take this opportunity to thank all current and ex-service men and women for their service.

    There is the Australian National Audit Office, which scrutinises financial management and the expenditure of public funds by the executive arm of the government. Plus there is the Commonwealth Ombudsman, who considers and investigates complaints for people who believe they have been treated unfairly by the Australian government. And, of course, there is the Independent Parliamentary Expenses Authority, commissioned to audit, advise and report on expenses of parliamentarians and their staff.

    The multiagency approach to combat corruption has proven successful. Australia consistently ranks as a low-corruption jurisdiction. It is generally accepted that there is no evidence of systematic or endemic integrity issues in the federal public sector. The government is firmly committed to ensuring the federal integrity framework is as strong as possible to maximise public confidence in our national institutions. In keeping with this, the government has committed to establishing the Commonwealth Integrity Commission, or CIC, to enhance national integrity arrangements across the federal public sector. It will include a public sector integrity division and a law enforcement integrity division, ensuring targeted attention to corruption and fraud across the whole public sector. Through the CIC, the government will have the ability to target serious criminal corruption that presents a threat to good public administration. All of these commissions and institutions are complex and sensitive in the investigations that they carry— (Time expired)

    Photo of Llew O'BrienLlew O'Brien (Wide Bay, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

    The discussion has concluded.