Tuesday, 1 December 2020
Select Committee on Administration of Sports Grants; Report
I'd like to speak on this motion to take note of the interim report. I start by congratulating the work the committee has done in starting to get to the bottom of what went on in the sports rorts affair. In particular, I thank my two Senate colleagues on the committee, Senator Chisholm and Senator Green, who've worked tirelessly and thoroughly to try and get to the bottom of what continues to be a terrible scandal for this government.
This committee has been trying to get to the bottom of this matter in the time of COVID. That's given the government some cover, which it has used to try and deflect from the inquiries. I say to the government and, in particular, the Prime Minister that we're not giving up here. We are going to continue to make inquiries. This afternoon the Senate passed a very clear and deliberate motion that makes it very clear that you can't hide behind a public immunity screen—that the Senate expects all of the documents which the minister, up until this point in time, has been trying to hide will be delivered to the committee so that the committee can continue its inquiries and get to the truth of what has happened here.
I'd like to go back to where this whole sorry tale started. It started with the Auditor-General's determination on this matter. A lot of people talk about the need for an ICAC in this country. Well, I can tell you that, in the absence of an ICAC, some excellent work has been done by the Auditor-General and, in particular, Mr Brian Boyd and his team in the Auditor-General's office, and they have been punished for that by losing some important funding. It was their original report that started this inquiry when they made this comment after reviewing the early documentation that was available, the so-called colour-coded spreadsheet. The report said it:
… reflected the approach documented by the Minister's Office of focusing on 'marginal' electorates held by the Coalition as well as those electorates held by other parties or independent members that were to be 'targeted' by the Coalition at the 2019 Election.
Now, you might say to yourself, 'Why has the government been so keen not to release all of the documentation that has gone between the then minister's office and the Prime Minister's office?' Well, I think we know the answer. The answer's in that little description there by the Auditor-General. What we'll discover, when we finally get to see that documentation, is that what the Auditor-General said was going on was in fact backed up by all of those emails.
This wasn't just an ordinary pork-barrelling exercise; this was pork-barrelling on an industrial scale. And we still haven't had a satisfactory answer from the Prime Minister about his role in this process. We're meant to believe that former minister Senator McKenzie—who, unfortunately, took the fall for this—worked this whole scheme out by herself in her own office. We'd like to be able to test that proposition, if she'd do us the courtesy of turning up to the committee. She has so far decided that she's not going to do that, but we're hopeful that she'll come and tell us exactly what's happened in order to provide some transparency to the Australian people and, more particularly, to sporting clubs around the country who were diddled by this sports rorts process.
In the meantime, the Senate has made it very clear that all of the documentation that has gone between the minister's office and the Prime Minister's office needs to be released so that the committee can make a thorough investigation, and, in that way, we're going to get to the bottom of what has gone on here. And if the government think that the COVID pandemic is going to give them cover for escaping responsibility and transparency for what has gone on here, they will have to have another think. We will get to the bottom of this. We will get this information. The former minister will, I think, ultimately give evidence to the committee, and we will get to the bottom of it.
During the course of this process, we had the advantage of all of those clubs who scored extremely well in this process, clubs that took, on face value, the criteria that the government had originally set out in order to proceed with these grants. We heard from those clubs and we heard what they said about it. We heard about the disappointment that these volunteers—volunteers who had spent hours and hours and hours preparing an application which, right from the start—