Tuesday, 1 December 2020
Select Committee on Administration of Sports Grants; Report
I'll keep my comments on this interim report brief. The report sets out the reasons the committee does not accept this public interest immunity claim by the minister. It is incredibly important that such public interest immunity claims are scrutinised and not used by ministers to avoid public transparency and accountability. The minister has not made out the grounds for the public interest immunity claim, and the Senate needs to consider whether it is in the public interest to allow the minister to claim immunity over these documents. I am pleased that the Senate has resolved to ask the minister for these documents.
This PI claim and this inquiry—this entire, disgraceful sports rorts saga—demonstrate the lengths to which Prime Minister Scott Morrison will go to avoid transparency and accountability. This advice that we have asked for goes to the legal authority of the minister to make these decisions, and it is crucial that the committee considers the advice. But we have been denied these documents, even on a confidential basis. The Auditor-General found that there was no legal authority for the minister to make these decisions. Instead of acting on the report of the Auditor-General, the Prime Minister sought two separate inquiries of his own—the Gaetjens report and advice from the Attorney-General—but we haven't received those documents either.
The Gaetjens report, funnily enough, says, 'Nothing to see here.' And the advice from the Attorney-General, Christian Porter, says: 'Yes, it's all good. There was legal basis, but we're not going to share that legal advice with you.' The question really is: why all this secrecy? Why won't this government come clean? Why won't the former minister appear before the committee? Why won't they give us the documents that we desperately need? There's one answer to that: 136 emails. There were 136 emails between the Prime Minister's office and the minister's office discussing this program—passing the spreadsheet back and forth, requests from the minister's office to change decisions to make sure that applications got through. And, as the Auditor-General report found, in one instance the Prime Minister's office said, 'We need to be able to crosscheck against our lists and also be able to pull out individual projects to coordinate announcements with material from CCHQ.' This was all about getting the government re-elected. It was all the Prime Minister's idea, and the transparency and accountability that the government has shown is all about protecting the Prime Minister.
The Senate has a job to do, and the government needs to give the Senate the information that it needs. That is the job the government should do so that this inquiry can table a final report—one the public can read and use to understand exactly what happened in this circumstance.