Senate debates

Monday, 10 February 2020

Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers

Community Sport Infrastructure Grant Program

3:39 pm

Photo of Don FarrellDon Farrell (SA, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Special Minister of State) Share this | | Hansard source


I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Youth and Sport (Senator Colbeck) to the question without notice asked by Senator Farrell relating to the Community Sport Infrastructure Grant Program.

Just when we thought it couldn't get any worse for the government under the sports rorts scandal over the first three weeks of this year, we found out last Friday about sports rorts II. Senator McKenzie, when she was first confronted with the evidence in relation to sports rorts I, said it was ridiculous that she should be asked to resign. She did resign and we thought that might be the end of it, that the $100 million that had been spent on sports rorts I was the end of the matter. Of course, on Friday we discovered that we had sports rorts II—and it wasn't just $100 million; it was $150 million. Between them, those two sports rorts projects represent almost a quarter of a million dollars of taxpayers' money.

The Prime Minister, when confronted about sports rorts on Friday, was so confused—and, one suspects, embarrassed—that we hadn't just been dealing with sports rorts I but now had sports rorts II that he answered the question in respect of sports rorts I. He went back to his notes, to his concept of what his response to this should be, and that was that it was all about how the government has been supporting women's change rooms.

We had a look at sports rorts II, the $150 million which the Prime Minister and then sports minister Senator McKenzie said was all about giving women change rooms and improving their facilities. That's a terrific aim and it is supported by the Labor Party. But what have we found out about this $150 million? We have found out that only a fraction of the money that was supposed to go towards improving women's facilities at sporting grounds around the country actually went to them.

I can see that you are quite distressed there, Mr Acting Deputy President Griff. Coming from South Australia, you would know just how desperate a lot of these sporting clubs were for that money. And you can probably recall that, when the government in South Australia changed a couple of years ago, the Liberals axed all of the money that the previous Labor government had set aside for improving women's sporting facilities. You'd also know that, in South Australia, in the three years of women's football, the Adelaide Crows have won two premierships. That has encouraged all these young women to start getting involved in sports. When the Prime Minister announced $150 million to improve their facilities so they didn't have to change behind the sporting sheds, they thought all their Christmases had come at once.

But what happened? That money didn't go to those people. It didn't go to what the government said it was going to go to. Where did it go to? It was a lot of money—combined, it was almost a quarter of a billion dollars. Where did it go to? Overwhelmingly, it went to swimming pools. Don't get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with swimming pools, but it went to two swimming pools in marginal seats the government was trying to hang on to at the last election. How deceitful is that? You tell the Australian community you are big on women's sports and increased participation. 'We're serious about looking after you. We're serious about stopping you having to change behind the change rooms out the back.' What do they do? They don't spend it on women's change rooms. They give it to two swimming pools— (Time expired)

3:45 pm

Photo of Alex AnticAlex Antic (SA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I take the opportunity to acknowledge Senator Farrell's kind words there in relation to the Adelaide Crows, which of course is one subject that we can agree on: his passion for that club is shared by me. One thing we can't agree on, however, is the use of this term 'sports rorts'. Those across the chamber consistently use this term like it has some sort of currency or like it's the repeat of a bad Hollywood sequel. On this side of the chamber, we know that that is nothing but fabrication. The government has acknowledged the recommendations of the ANAO performance audit into the Community Sport Infrastructure Grant Program, and is taking action with Sport Australia to address the findings. Where it is the case that deficiencies have been identified across the board in transparency and in documentation, then, quite simply, they will be remedied.

It is trite to suggest that this is something that the government should hang its head about. It's quite the opposite. Between 2018 and 2019 the federal government delivered 684 projects, investing in the order of $100 million into the Community Sport Infrastructure Grant Program. We've seen firsthand the positive impacts that this program had delivered for many grassroots sporting organisations and local communities. Indeed, Senator Farrell's noted a few of them. The cause of women's sport in South Australia has, of course, been, in my home state—and your home state, Mr Acting Deputy President Griff—a very, very fine win for the community.

Once again, to take issue with this concept of 'sports rorts', as it's been characterised, the advice of the Attorney-General, in consultation with the Australian Government Solicitor, was that he didn't agree with the Auditor-General's specific comments regarding ministerial authority. Publically released guidelines clearly state that the minister was the final decision-maker and could take into account other issues. It's more than reasonable in circumstances that the minister is the final decision-maker and has some discretion, because it is clear that that is the role of the minister. The minister's job is to make decisions, and that is what he or she will do in the circumstances. That's why this government, ultimately, is acting on recommendation 4 from the ANAO, so that where ministers have discretion to make decisions, and where they move away for whatever reason from what those recommendations might be, there is a process of accountability and transparency.

We should also take this opportunity to make the point that one only has to cast one's mind back a relatively short amount of time—

Opposition Senators:

Opposition senators interjecting

Photo of Alex AnticAlex Antic (SA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I hear the calls of 'sports rorts' and that sort of thing from the other side of the chamber, but of course the ANAO made it very clear that the way the program was conducted delivered on its intent. That is the critical factor to be brought into account here. All the projects that the government backed were eligible. They were eligible for support, unlike, for example, with Labor's Catherine King, whom the Auditor-General found was spending taxpayer money on projects against the recommendations of experts. Or let's say Ros Kelly, who funded ineligible projects. So we are talking about quite separate and distinct concepts here, and, as the Prime Minister has said, the secretary found that the minister actually did not take into account political factors as a primary consideration when making her decisions. So, these are crucial distinctions. They are not merely trivial matters; they are quite significant. We are dealing with decisions that have been made which have had positive impacts in the community. We are now seeing these funding arrangements rolled out such that there are now change rooms for community clubs and so forth. In fact, it's true to say that electorates held by our friends across the chamber— the Australian Labor Party—represented as many as 35 per cent of approved projects and 34 per cent of approved funding. Of course, these electorates would have been less successful had Sport Australia's assessment team's recommendations been maintained. There are many Labor frontbenchers who have welcomed these, none more significant than the opposition leader, Anthony Albanese, who actually went so far as to thank Minister McKenzie for her support for the Dawn Fraser pool—quite a suggestion.

3:50 pm

Photo of Anthony ChisholmAnthony Chisholm (Queensland, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak again on this important issue, which was the focus of questions from the Labor opposition during question time today. I'd say to those government senators who have been sent in here to defend the sports rorts—I said it last week, as well—that they should put themselves in the shoes of those moms and dads and other volunteers who are the lifeblood of these community groups, who were responsible for putting in these submissions that received a high score but were completely disregarded by the government for its own political purposes. Those are the people they need to be thinking about when they come in here to defend the rorts and say: 'This is just what the government did. We made those decisions.' The people they are dudding are those mums and dads and other volunteers out there who put in hours that they don't have—they give up other things while they are putting in those hours—to make these submissions that the government ignored.

The government ignored them through three processes through the first sports rorts. There were rounds 1, 2 and 3. We know that as each round went further the government completely disregarded the Sport Australia recommendations. By the last round it was ignoring up to 73 per cent. The closer the election got the more likely they were to disregard the Sport Australia recommendations. That wasn't enough for them—the three rounds and $100 million weren't enough—so they came up with another plan for $150 million for them to spend during the election campaign. All up, the government spent a quarter of a billion dollars through this process to help its re-election campaign. If that's what those opposite want to come in and defend then I'm happy to take the fight up to them every day of the week.

What is outrageous is the performance of the Prime Minister, particularly when it comes to sports rorts 2. When he launched this fund, the Prime Minister said:

The principal objective of that is to ensure that there are changing facilities and other facilities to support more girls and women’s participation in sport all around the country.

That is what the Prime Minister said when he launched this fund. Guess how much of the $150 million was spent on female change rooms—less than 15 per cent. So for him to justify that on the support that everyone in this place and around the country has for female sport and for trying to get more women involved in sport is absolutely nonsense. He should be held accountable for that. He is still using that line today to try to justify the sports rorts as being for female change rooms, when the reality is that just 15 per cent went on female facilities.

We know that $60 million, or 40 per cent of the total, went on funding pools in the two Liberal held seats of Corangamite and Pearce. That actually goes to show the motivation of this government. They say one thing to try to justify the program, but the reality of this program is that it was intended to buy votes and win marginal seats so they could try to form government again. That was the sole purpose of the program. We saw that with sports rorts 1. Increasingly, as we got closer to the election, those opposite were disregarding Sport Australia and trying to fund their projects in marginal seats. They weren't done with that. That program finished with April. They came up with another $150 million that was to go to funding they could use to fund projects that they wanted. This goes also to the substance of the decisions that they made around who was responsible for it. When the policy was released, a document was prepared by the infrastructure department, which said that guidelines for the program were meant to be delivered in June last year. Guidelines for this funding program have never been released, and already the $150 million allocation has been exhausted. So even when they released and announced the money—we heard the rot from the Prime Minister about the basis for it; that can be dismissed, because that is not what they have done. When they launched the fund they said guidelines would be issued. But we now know that the fund has been completely spent and that no guidelines have been issued at all. The health department stated that the program was not open to applications and that all proponents were selected by government. So there were no published guidelines and no criteria for the allocation of funding, and all announcements were made by the government at the time, including the minister.

We know the Department of Health and Senator Colbeck had responsibility for the program in consultation with the Prime Minister, but I think they have so many sports rorts programs that they are funding that the minister himself got confused about which one he was talking about in terms of the question from Senator Farrell regarding the guidelines they were using. They are desperately trying to keep their head above water on this, but we know there is so much more coming their way to take accountability for. (Time expired)

3:55 pm

Photo of Hollie HughesHollie Hughes (NSW, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The hide of the Labor Party—the pink hide of the Labor Party—to lecture anyone on so-called sports rorts. For you, Senator Chisholm: I haven't been sent here at all. In fact, I'm more than happy to be here today, because those opposite didn't just put the pork in the barrel; they ran the piggery—snouts in the trough all the way back to Gough. In fact, even they have forgotten their own patron saint. Who could ever forget St Ros Kelly and the whiteboard? Only barefaced hypocrites would fail to recall the events of late 1993, when sports minister Kelly failed to explain the distribution of grants to marginal seats in the Labor-Keating government. Every time you want to attack the Prime Minister, just have a good think about your insult to the memory of your beloved Keating. Paul would be appalled. Your amnesia couldn't be any more convenient or selective.

Of course, when Ros Kelly resigned, it was a disaster for Labor. They even lost the traditionally safe Labor seat of Canberra. Maybe they should have been installing the lights at Manuka Oval way back then. And guess what. It was the Auditor-General complaining about the manner in which the department had administered $30 million in grants under the Community Cultural, Recreational and Sporting Facilities Program. It was a program started by—guess who. Yes, there's no party without punch. It was the godfather, Graham Richardson of the Labor right, Mr Whatever It Takes, the prince of the piggery, cooking up this program on a spit in 1988. It was Richo's very own bicentenary gift to the nation—a rort in which Labor could shore up endangered seats. In fact, only recently Richo told Paul Murray and Sky News: 'I did exactly the same thing, only better, and I got into no trouble whatsoever. I skated through as I used to do on everything.' Then he joked that Ros Kelly wasn't so lucky. He was laughing out loud. Now there's a sick sense of humour.

But, as a senator for New South Wales, the fact that any Labor member from my state should suggest impropriety in this dog whistling smear of a way is astounding. In fact, if it weren't so offensive, it would be hilarious. The party that boosts the Audi brand better than any advertising campaign, who appears before ICAC so regularly it's almost part of their brand, who must attend caucus meetings so inconveniently and uncomfortably when the poor member for Kingsford Smith has to acknowledge he wasn't so keen on the elevation of now Senator Kenneally for the premiership. Luckily for Senator Kenneally, the Frank Sartor supporters had Eddie Obeid make calls on her behalf. So I suggest to those opposite that they try to keep a straight face when they gaze into that mirror and look at themselves with those shifty eyes.

On a more positive note, I would like to acknowledge the success of the former Minister for Agriculture, who has now stepped aside from the ministry, and look at the loss that she is to the cabinet and to the ministry and look at the contribution that she made to Australia, the successful programs that she did introduce and the wonderful contributions she made to this country. Even at the end of last year, she delivered a mandatory dairy code of conduct. There is the fact that she injected $3.5 million into the Farm Safety Education Fund to improve on-farm safety, something that we should always be looking at when we look at the number of accidents that cause unnecessary deaths on farms. There is the fact that she put $3.9 million towards Beef Australia, promoting our Australian beef in international markets, something that we should be looking at today when we look at our Indonesian trade deal. She was very much a part of opening up agricultural trade and market access cooperation programs worth $6.8 million to help farmers access new and profitable markets. She passed the farm trespass laws to make it unlawful to incite others to invade farms and harass farming families, something too many people opposite in this place were too slow off the mark to condemn. She established a National Feral Pig Coordinator to tackle the Australia's feral pig population. She put $5 million towards the Kids to Farms program, part of the government's $10 million Educating Kids About Agriculture. A significant part of these programs were great contributions to this nation, and I'm sure, given time, Senator McKenzie will once again be able to make a great contribution to our country.

Photo of Mehreen FaruqiMehreen Faruqi (NSW, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

It now being four o'clock, we do have a hard marker. The question is that the motion moved by Senator Farrell to take note of answers be agreed to.

Question agreed to.