Senate debates

Wednesday, 12 February 2020


Community Sport Infrastructure Grants Program; Order for the Production of Documents

9:31 am

Photo of Richard ColbeckRichard Colbeck (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Minister for Aged Care and Senior Australians) Share this | | Hansard source

As I advised the Senate in my letter dated 11 February 2020, I have indicated to Senators Farrell and Faruqi that the government needs more time to prepare a response to the relevant Senate order for the production of documents, and I intend to table these responses to the Senate by no later than 12 pm on Thursday 13 February 2020. It is not uncommon for governments of both persuasions to require additional time to conduct a thorough and exhaustive search of all relevant documents. I thank the Senate.

9:32 am

Photo of Marise PayneMarise Payne (NSW, Liberal Party, Minister for Foreign Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

The Senate agreed to an order on 5 February 2020 which requires the Minister representing the Attorney-General to table advice provided to the Attorney-General, including by the Australian Government Solicitor, in relation to the legal authority of the Minister for Sport to undertake an approval role for funding decisions under the Community Sport Infrastructure Program. The Attorney-General wrote to me providing advice in relation to this order, which I have accordingly tabled.

It is a longstanding practice of successive Australian governments not to disclose privileged legal advice. Australian governments not disclosing privileged legal advice is a well-established convention and one that has been reiterated on a number of occasions. Notably, former Labor government Attorney-General the Hon. Gareth Evans AC QC, in 1995 said:

Nor is it the practice or has it been the practice over the years for any government to make available legal advice from its legal advisers made in the course of the normal decision making process of government, for good practical reasons associated with good government and also as a matter of fundamental principle.

More recently, in 2011, another former Labor minister, the Hon. Joe Ludwig, put the position as follows:

To the extent that we are now going to go to the content of the advice, can I say that it has been a longstanding practice of both this government and successive governments not to disclose the content of advice.

I also note that, in the correspondence provided to the Senate, the Attorney-General has reiterated the advice of former Attorneys as well as Gareth Evans AC, QC: the Hon. Daryl Williams QC and the Hon. Philip Ruddock MP. The government maintains that it is not in the public interest to depart from this established position which has been maintained over many years by successive governments. It is essential that privileged legal advice provided to the Commonwealth remains confidential. Access by government to such confidential advice is in practical terms critical to the development of sound Commonwealth policy and robust lawmaking.

9:34 am

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the Senate take note of the explanations, or lack thereof.

I'm unsurprised that they are leaving the chamber, just as they are trashing our democracy in the way they are dealing with this disgusting political cover-up. That they have refused to table the documents speaks to that cover-up and demonstrates yet again the disregard in which this government holds the Australian democracy. This is all about protection of the Prime Minister, who is up to his neck in the sports rorts scandal. Well, I've got some news for the government: it's too late. It's too late for a cover-up when you've already been caught. And, having been caught, Mr Morrison had only one chance to make good with the Australian people, and that was to fess up—just front up. But, as always with ScoMo, Mr Morrison is too clever by half, and, once again, he diminishes himself and his office by doubling down on the crime as he tries to cover it up.

He has been caught red-handed but is pretending there's nothing to see. But we can all see it, and the Australian people can all see it, because no-one believes this was a solo effort by Senator McKenzie. If this Prime Minister has demonstrated anything, it's that he calls the shots in this government. He drives the politics. He doesn't have a plan, but he drives the politics. Remember last year, when Ms Leigh Sales asked him who would be in charge of his government and who would be making decisions. He said, 'I will.' And that applies to the sports rorts just as it applies to every other aspect of the political strategy in which he has been engaged.

Senator Colbeck has not complied with the order to table the spreadsheet colour-coding over 2,000 grant applications under the CSIP by the party that held the electorate. But we know the spreadsheet already exists; it has existed for a very long time. Do you know how we know that? It has been reported on extensively and was referred to in the Auditor-General's report. There is this claim that he needs more time. Well, this government has had plenty of time. They have had weeks. All they had to do was to press 'send' on a document on the desktop. The reason they have not tabled the spreadsheet is not that they need more time. Does anybody believe that? It is that they want to hide it.

This spreadsheet is the means by which this government has misallocated millions of dollars of taxpayers' money against the recommendations of Sport Australia. The Auditor-General found that taxpayer funds were abused for party political purposes. It's that simple. No wonder the government wants to hide the evidence that demonstrates that. The Auditor-General's report states:

… the Minister's Office used the spreadsheets provided to it by Sport Australia 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 …

There was a 'parallel assessment process' to use taxpayer funds for political purposes to target coalition marginal seats and targeted seats.

Then we have the legal authority of the minister. I have to say that I sat here shaking my head as I listened to Senator Payne reading out the letter and going on about legal professional privilege. Let's remember what has occurred here: an independent statutory officer, the Auditor-General, has put into one of their reports that there is a question as to the legal authority of the minister to make decisions. That is the context of the demand for legal advice. It's not a request for legal advice about constitutional matters or a sensitive immigration matter or the powers of the Commonwealth to do certain things; it is a request for legal advice in circumstances where a statutory officer has said that there are serious doubts as to whether the minister even had authority to make these decisions. A government that actually cared about probity would ensure it at least provided sufficient advice to dispel that doubt.

What is happening is they are hiding legal advice in circumstances where an independent officer has said that there is a doubt as to whether or not the minister had any legal authority to approve funding decisions. I, for one, find it extraordinary—this is the government, the minister and the Attorney-General, who's supposed to be the first law officer of the Commonwealth. Mr Porter, shame on you that you can't even provide advice to the public to assure them that the doubts the Auditor-General raised can be dispelled. The best we got was the Prime Minister speed-reading bits of it in a press conference. 'Oh, yeah, he says she's fine.' That's essentially what the Australian people got: 'Trust us. Christian says it's fine, so it's fine.' Well I for one think the Australian people deserve a little bit more respect than that. Just another layer of cover up!

And then there's the communication between offices. Senator McKenzie resigned as minister for sport. It wasn't because she took the rap for the maladministration that occurred with this program; it was because of a breach of the Statement of Ministerial Standards. No-one in this government, no minister, has taken responsibility for what the Auditor-General found was a blatant use of taxpayers' money for rank political purposes against the guidelines of a program designed to help needy and deserving clubs.

Does anyone believe this was a solo effort by Bridget McKenzie? Does anyone believe that Mr Morrison was not in it up to his neck, that his staff weren't making sure that they milked every cent of taxpayers' money for political purposes? In fact, the Prime Minister's involvement is at the heart of Senator Colbeck's refusal to answer the second order of production made by the Senate.

Let's remember that Mr Morrison initially denied his office had any involvement. He's very good at denial, isn't he? I think over time the Australian people are coming to understand that you just can't trust his word. So he first denied it. He tried to palm it off to Senator McKenzie: 'Oh, the minister was the one making decisions. Nothing to do with me!' But he couldn't stick to his story, because at the Press Club he shifted and admitted, 'Oh, well, actually all we did was provide information based on the representation made to us.' It was the blanket, 'We had nothing to do with it; it had to be moved, because there was a bit too much evidence.' He's an ad man tangled up in his own spin.

And then it was reported that senior staff in his own office—in Mr Morrison's office, the Prime Minister's office—were involved in the allocation of grants under this program. It has also been reported that Senator McKenzie's office told Sport Australia that it had been asked by the Prime Minister's office 'to make a slight adjustment'. A slight adjustment! I wonder what that was? 'We need it in this seat, not that one. We need a bit more for this seat, not those. Take a bit more from this project to give it to this one, because that'd be really good for us.' It was all taxpayers' money. The Prime Minister and his office were in it up to their necks. There's no plausible way the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister were not directly involved in what was a central part of their re-election strategy: misdirecting taxpayers' funds to serve the political interests of the Liberal and National parties.

Senator Colbeck said he will provide all communication between the current and former officers of the minister for sport and the office of the Prime Minister and office of the Deputy Prime Minister by midday tomorrow. Do we really think we can take him at his word, given their past performance? Of course the final document the government has refused to produce as part of this cover-up is the report provided by the Secretary of the Department of the PM&C, Mr Philip Gaetjens, the former chief of staff to Mr Morrison—to the Prime Minister.

Do you know what we're being asked to do—what the Senate, the media and the Australian public are being asked to do? We're being asked to accept that the findings of an independent statutory officer, the Auditor-General, should be overridden by a secret report authored by someone of dubious credibility, because Mr Gaetjens is Mr Morrison's mate, his former chief of staff, and that inquiry was commissioned by Mr Morrison to get exactly the advice he wanted so that he could do what he had already decided. The Gaetjens report is simply the way in which Mr Morrison gets sufficient paper to do what he'd already decided politically. It is not an exercise in accountability or transparency; it is an exercise in cover-up, a total sham.

I am unsurprised that Senator Cormann has refused to produce this report. He pretends somehow it would reveal cabinet deliberations. Well, I say this to Senator Cormann, and he is someone for whom I have some respect: you know this is an abysmal failure of accountability. You know this is a complete distortion of the principles of cabinet confidentiality. You know that Odgers says that you have to demonstrate that disclosure of the document would reveal cabinet deliberations; you can't simply make the claim because a document has the word 'cabinet' on it or because someone walked it through the cabinet room. The Gaetjens report is nothing more than a fig leaf to cover up where Mr Morrison is most vulnerable, and so, too, is the use of cabinet confidentiality. I say this to Senator Mathias Cormann: is this really the hill you want your credibility to die on? All your years in this place and all your efforts to bring integrity to this place are going up in smoke to protect a man who would never do the same.

As people in this place, we are privileged to be here. We are all members of parties, and we engage in political contests. I'm up for it! But we're also custodians of our democracy. And it was with regret rather than enthusiasm that non-government senators signed a motion that will be voted on later today that would prevent Senator Cormann from representing the Prime Minister until he produces the Gaetjens report. It is an extraordinary step. It's not a step I have ever taken. I've led the Labor Party in this place for many years and I have never engaged in sponsoring such a motion. But we have taken this extraordinary step, with an extraordinary alliance of non-government senators, because of our deep concern at the trashing of democratic conventions by this government. I really hope that Senator Cormann acts to protect his legacy and reputation, rather than loyally trying to salvage the reputation—that is unsalvageable—of the ad man that leads this government.

The government's actions in refusing these four separate orders, and in their other conduct, are a wilful disregard of the conventions of accountable government. They act like this is their joint—that it's theirs to play with. So I want to conclude on this point. We can have an argument about the government's conduct in their administration of the Community Sport Infrastructure program. We can have a debate about spreadsheets. We can have a debate about legal advice. We can have a debate about correspondence and reports. But what should not be up for debate is the responsibility of the executive government to the parliament and, through it, to the Australian people. It's actually the core of our democratic system. As the National Party minister Mr Chester noted recently, we live in a time when there is a serious deficit of trust between people and their institutions of government. Trashing the convention of executive responsibility to the parliament trashes both these branches of government. That is what is at stake.

We stand here in this Senate and we, rightly, regard it as one of the most significant legislative chambers in the world. But its importance only comes through the responsibility it has in our constitutional system of government: to work for the people who elected us to serve in it. Each time a minister comes in here and refuses to give an answer or refuses to table any information when documents were ordered to be produced, the Senate is diminished.

I say to those opposite: don't diminish this place. Serve here, and act with the responsibility which comes from guarding against the misuse of power; act instead in the interests of honesty, transparency and accountability and, above all, in the interests of the Australian people.

9:48 am

Photo of Larissa WatersLarissa Waters (Queensland, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the motion to take note of the explanations, extremely brief and dismissive as they were. Minister Colbeck effectively said: 'The dog ate my homework; can I have an extension, please?' I don't think anyone really thinks that tomorrow he will front up with those documents. So what's this extension for? It's to give them another 24 hours to find a different way of saying, 'Soz, we're not going to give you the documents you've asked for, because this government can't hack transparency.' That's what happened yesterday, when this place sought to have the Gaetjens report tabled. Historically, similar reports have, in fact, been tabled, even though they were politically inconvenient to the government at the time. This is a new and very, very scary precedent that this government is now setting in that it is defying the will of the Senate and not voluntarily disclosing documents of this nature.

Cabinet-in-confidence was claimed yesterday—perhaps they're going to say that again tomorrow—but it's very interesting when you look at what the cabinet-in-confidence convention actually states. You can't just wheel a document through the cabinet room and say that it's cabinet-in-confidence. We all know that happens, but it's not meant to work that way. You're meant to have actually deliberated it. I had a look at the ministerial standards, because they are called 'the Prime Minister's ministerial standards'—you can be forgiven for thinking that they have no standards, but there is technically a document called 'the Prime Minister's ministerial standards'. They don't mention the cabinet. There is no formal role for the cabinet to have anything to do with the enforcement of the Prime Minister's ministerial standards. So I say to the government: if you are genuinely claiming cabinet-in-confidence, why was the cabinet even discussing this matter? This is an immense politicisation of what is a rort that goes all the way to the top. We know it goes all the way to the top, not because this government has disclosed the documents that will prove that but because someone leaked those documents to the media.

It's very telling that Minister Colbeck needs more time to find a document that the press gallery have already got. They've already got the spreadsheet. The ABC had that weeks ago. I think it was Network Ten that got the emails which show that, in fact, it was the Prime Minister's office telling then Minister McKenzie that we needed some changes—I think 'slight change' was the phrase that was used. So is it any wonder that the Prime Minister has made former minister Bridget McKenzie take the fall? He's protecting himself. It doesn't escape anybody's notice that there have been all sorts of corruption allegations made by other frontbenchers—none of them have had to pay the price, but we see a senior woman in the government ranks paying the price. She's been the fall girl for the Prime Minister's dodginess.

We'll all wait and see, and we'll hear the explanation tomorrow when Minister Colbeck and Minister Cormann rock up and say: 'We can't tell you, because, gee, it would actually implicate our top guy. We know he's not really popular right now, and we don't really want to make that any worse.' What an embarrassment. I don't think the Prime Minister can really continue to dismiss this lack of accountability as just 'the Canberra bubble'. I don't really think 'the Canberra bubble' ever held much sway with the public. I certainly don't think that dismissing the premise of the question is going to cut it much longer, because the public are dismissing the premise of this government. This is an illegitimate government. It scraped back in with a one-seat majority, and it scraped back in by misusing public funds to buy election outcomes. That was essentially what the Auditor-General found, and so of course the Prime Minister is scurrying to blame someone else to cover up his involvement in this whole fiasco. This is a deeply embarrassing moment for his government. He's had quite a few of those lately, but this is perhaps the most challenging.

We've all known that rorting goes on, but this time the Prime Minister's been caught out directing it. He's continuing to fail to take any responsibility for his own office's involvement in this debacle, and he's been happy to let heads roll in the National Party to try to distract from the deep lack of transparency and accountability that permeates this entire administration. It debases all of us in this place, and it's a massive insult to the public. I was no fan of John Howard, but at least they put the children overboard report in the public domain. They knew it would be inconvenient and politically damaging, but they still did it. The standards used to be pretty low, but it seems now that there are no standards.

This government is completely out of touch and will not ever, it seems, abide by any sort of transparency or accountability. It makes a mockery of this place, and it makes a mockery of this government. This is exactly why we need these so-called Prime Minister's ministerial standards to actually be independently enforced—to be enforced at all would be a good start, but to be independently enforced is clearly what's needed here, because the Prime Minister's just got his old mate, who was his chief of staff and now runs his department, to say: 'Oh, no, this other independent statutory body is wrong. Everything's fine and, no, we're not going to actually tell you why. We're just going to make this assertion.' This whole government is farcical. There's no independent enforcement of those standards. There's no accountability. And we saw insult added to injury yesterday when the Prime Minister would not even let his party members vote on a motion that would bring on a bill to establish a federal anticorruption watchdog. Not only can they not even enforce their own ministerial standards but they do not want a federal corruption watchdog. What are they afraid of—another scandal tomorrow and a scandal the day after that? They clearly love being in the headlines, but it's for all of the wrong reasons. What are they trying to hide by blocking the establishment of a strong independent corruption watchdog that could oversee these sorts of scandals?

It's very interesting that commentators have looked at the so-called design principles for the government's corruption watchdog—which are a year old and which haven't progressed beyond 'design principles', but be that as it may—and the view is that, on those design principles, the government's body wouldn't even have been able to look at the conduct of then Minister McKenzie, of the Prime Minister himself, of Minister Taylor, for that matter, or of former ministers Pyne and Bishop in taking pretty dodgy post-parliamentary employment. How convenient for this government to delay a federal corruption watchdog at all, and, secondly, to be designing one that will effectively facilitate cover-ups of their own government's dodginess. How convenient to have a corruption watchdog that is deliberately designed to have no teeth, and, frankly, to be asleep.

So we've had a 16-month delay on an independent body. The proposals that we know about are going to be weak. They would be tantamount to a protection racket for the corruption that is at the heart of this government. Then they didn't even have the guts to let their people vote on a motion to bring on a bill that would set up a strong corruption watchdog: one that had teeth; one that was properly resourced, that was independent, that could take tip-offs from the public, that could cover dodgy ministerial conduct, that could hold hearings in public—a corruption watchdog that could actually do the job of cleaning up politics and cleaning up the corruption that now so signifies this government. They didn't want that to come to a vote because they were a bit worried that some of their Nationals 'friends' might cross the floor. So they gag debate and they put it off into the long grass. We'll now probably never see a vote on that bill, which has passed this place with the support—or, at least, the abstention, in the case of One Nation—of all non-government senators. Once again, this government is totally out of step with everybody else in this building. It's trying to say, 'La, la, la, la, la. There's nothing to see.' Well, nobody buys it anymore. You can't just keep asking for an extension and then claiming cabinet-in-confidence.

Is it any wonder that trust in democracy is at an all-time low? This government needs to wake up and bear responsibility for that fact and then do something about it. I don't like this government. I think their policies stink. I think they've got no values and no ethics. But I do think that the institution of government deserves to be respected by the public. The government should act like it deserves respect. I am disturbed by that lack of confidence and trust in government as an institution. That is a recipe for civil unrest. It doesn't get any problems fixed. It enables this government to continue to act, frankly, with the air of fascism. And we're better than that. Australians deserve better than that. Bring on the next election. It can't come soon enough. We cannot wait to see this mob sitting on the other side of the chamber. We hope that the next mob will take integrity more seriously.

We're very pleased that there was support for the Greens' strong corruption watchdog proposal, which passed this Senate. But it should not just sit on the back of the Notice Paper in the House while this government continues to act with impunity and while rorts after rorts continue to plague this government and it continues to think that it can just get away with it by saying, 'It's the Canberra bubble,' and that it doesn't accept the premise of the question.

We've got a motion that's coming on later today, with some very serious consequences for the Leader of the Government in the Senate. Like I'm sure the other folk in this chamber all have, I have thought deeply about whether it is appropriate to sanction the Leader of the Government in the Senate, because it's a pretty big step to say, 'You can't actually represent the Prime Minister anymore in this place.' I think that's probably the biggest step. It might seem insignificant to members of the public, but it's a pretty big deal in here to do that. The significance of this continued cover-up and this continued rorting of public money and the absolute arrogance and impunity the government continues to have over this situation means they're reaching new lows. We'll move today to potentially sheet that home to Minister Cormann in this place.

The Prime Minister needs to act like a Prime Minister and actually take some responsibility. The public likes it when people admit they have made a mistake and that they have learned from it and then get back on with the job. But this Prime Minister, if he's not going on holidays when the country is burning, if he's not then belatedly trying to send the forces out to help put the fires out, is simply saying, 'There's nothing to see here; this is the Canberra bubble.' The public deserve so much better. We can't take any more of this Prime Minister. Stop the spin, start acting with the dignity that your role is meant to bestow upon you, and just bring in a corruption watchdog that's going to clean up your mob. Nothing less will suffice. All of these claims of cabinet-in-confidence and, 'We're not going to tell you; it's not in the public interest to tell you,' just don't cut it any more. Continue on being the corrupt, self-interested, dodgy government if you like, but you're going to bear the consequences and they couldn't come soon enough.

10:01 am

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

I rise on this issue relating to the order of production of documents. In so doing, I'd like to take up pretty much where Senator Wong left off on this issue and talk about the unprecedented nature of this application. As she said, in all of the time that she has been leader of our great party in the Senate, she's never seen it necessary to take this particular action against Senator Cormann in respect of his representational role in relation to the Prime Minister. But the fact of the matter is that things have got so bad with this government that the Labor Party, the Greens, I think Centre Alliance, One Nation and Senator Lambie are forced into taking action that they don't really want to. We'd prefer for the government to come forward, be transparent, be accountable and produce the documents that we are seeking from the government.

Can I just give one example of the madness of what the government is doing at the moment. The so-called colour-coded document, the key document, identified all of the seats that the government was trying to win at the last election—marginal Liberal seats, marginal National Party seats and Independent seats. All of these seats were colour-coded in the document that was bouncing back and forth between then Minister McKenzie—she's resigned now—and the Prime Minister's office. The ABC has a copy of that document. Good luck to them. I'd like to see it. They're hanging on to it—although they are drip-feeding it, and one suspects there will be more to come. But how crazy is it that we have a situation where the national broadcaster has a copy of this document but this parliament does not have a copy of that document? This government is seeking to deny the accountability and the transparency that's absolutely essential in any government.

I often sit here during question time, as I think you probably do, Mr Acting Deputy President Sterle, and listen to Senator Cormann. What are often the words that come out of his mouth? 'We are accountable,' and 'We are transparent.' Well, where is that accountability and that transparency on this occasion? This has been an unprecedented scandal in this country and this parliament. A quarter of a billion dollars has gone out the door from this government to its preferred sporting clubs. Let's be clear about this. We have no objection to money going to sporting clubs. We would have done the same ourselves in terms of helping those clubs. The clubs have not done anything wrong here. The group that have done the wrong thing here are the government but, more particularly, the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister has absolutely done the wrong thing here, and this quarter of a billion dollars has gone out.

There have been two events here really, and the media have succinctly described them as 'sports rorts 1' and 'sports rorts 2'. 'Sports rorts 1' involved $100 million, and it was as if the minister, Minister McKenzie, was using her own personal cheque account to hand out money to clubs in all of these marginal Liberal and National seats and the seats that the government wanted to win. We thought that was a big number. But of course this week we've found out that there was an even bigger number, and the Prime Minister was using the program as if it were his own chequebook, writing $150 million worth of grants.

Why are people so angry about this? It's because it's a breach of trust between the government and the people. It's not just about the lack of accountability. It's not just about the lack of transparency. It's about the breach of trust. Why is that? Minister McKenzie, when she first announced this program, said: 'This is an above-the-board process. Everything's dinky-di. Everything's transparent. We're going to have a set of guidelines that clubs around the country can access on a website, to look up and see what sorts of programs the government is looking at supporting. But then, when they've put in their application, an independent body will assess the value of those programs.' Sport Australia is the body that we have entrusted with looking after sport in this country, a very important body, pretty dear to the hearts of most Australians, because most Australians play sport. The government said: 'Trust us. We're going to send your application to Sport Australia. They're going to make an assessment. You're going to have an independent assessment of what are the best projects that this government can support with that $100 million.' I might add that, when it first went out, it was only $30 million. That's right—laugh if you will! It was $30 million. Then it was $60 million. Then it was $100 million by a few weeks out from the election.

So the breach of trust here is that more than 2,000 clubs thought that the government was on the level, thought that they could believe what the government said in their guidelines as to what was going to be the determining factor in whether they would or would not get grants. Some of these grants were very large. In South Australia a rugby club, with no women players, got half a million dollars to build women's changing rooms. It's hard to believe.

An opposition senator: Are you serious?

I am serious. Yet a club down the road, the South Adelaide Football Club, an AFL club with a great history, one of the oldest clubs in South Australia, has three women's teams, 45 women players and one toilet. In fact, they had more women's premierships than they had toilets for their women players. Yes, I know you're laughing, but it's a serious matter, Mr Acting Deputy President Sterle.

This is a scandal of unbelievable proportions. I described it as industrial pork-barrelling, but it's probably gone well and truly beyond that, and there was a breach of trust. These 2,000-plus clubs put in their applications, thinking that they were going to be assessed on the level. And, of course, they were assessed; those 2,000-plus applications were assessed. Some of them got 98. It's a very good score, 98 out of 100. You would think that would be a winning score. Well, no; it wasn't a winning score. Some clubs scored four—

Photo of Malarndirri McCarthyMalarndirri McCarthy (NT, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Four? Out of 100?

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

Yes, four out of 100. I guess you would have got that for spelling your name correctly on the application. Unless there were other factors that came into it, you would mostly likely expect those clubs with the best results would be the most deserving of the $100 million. But, no, that wasn't what happened. The government kept saying, 'Look, we don't want women changing behind the sheds anymore; we want them changing in decent club rooms.' That's a very good objective, but 12 clubs who scored highly in this application process were denied the money. And where did it go? It went to the marginal seats that the government was looking to win at the last election.

Senator Waters talks about a federal ICAC. The fact of the matter is we have our very own Auditor-General. We didn't have an ICAC on this occasion, but the Auditor-General worked out that something dodgy—something really dodgy—went on here and he produced his report.

Now we come to sports rorts 2: $150 million, so another $50 million. Again, it's this breach of trust. The Prime Minister says to the Australian people: 'Look, more women are participating in sport than ever before. These sporting clubs, they often run on the smell of an oily rag'—and that's another point: volunteers spent hours and hours and hours preparing these applications, thinking it was on the level, thinking that they could trust the government. So what do we find with this $150 million, what's described as 'sports rorts on steroids'? The Prime Minister goes out a couple of weeks out from the election—it's a front-page splash in every newspaper in every town in the country—and says: 'We're going to put some money into women's sporting facilities. The number of women playing sport is increasing. They've got substandard facilities. We're going to improve those facilities with this $150 million.' Is that what happened? What the Prime Minister told us was going to happen, did that happen? No, it didn't. Forty per cent of the money went to two swimming pools. One was in a marginal seat in your home state, Mr Acting Deputy President Sterle, and guess what? It was in the marginal seat held by the Attorney-General. The other one was in the seat of Corangamite—another marginal seat.

Opposition senators interjecting

Yes, Corangamite! So all this money that the government said was going to go towards improving sporting conditions for women in Australia—it's a good thing that they want to play; it's a good thing there are more of them who want to go out there—didn't happen. They didn't get the money, and they were never going to get the money.

All of these clubs around the countryside thought: 'Okay, we've missed out on the $100 million in the first round. Ah, but here is another $150 million and we'll have a chance of getting that money.' They never had a chance. This government was never ever going to fairly distribute that money. They were especially never going to fairly distribute it to the women's clubs that really needed that money. How do I know that? Well, 12 clubs that scored highly in the first application and could have been the beneficiaries of a second round didn't win in the first round and they were nowhere to be seen in the second round. This government has no accountability and no transparency.

As I said when I started my address in respect of this, this is an unprecedented step. We shouldn't have to do this. The ABC's got the document. What did the minister do when he found out that the ABC had it? Did he come to the parliament and say, 'Here's the document. Everybody can see what we've done here'? No. What did he do? He started an inquiry, a witch-hunt, in his own department, the Sport Australia department; he started a witch-hunt in the Department of Health to find out who gave the document to the ABC. Instead of saying, 'Okay, the game's up. Somebody's got this document. The Australian people are entitled to know what's gone on here. I'm going to present this document to the parliament,' what did the minister do? He started a witch-hunt in his own department, which I suspect is still ongoing. We'll find out a bit more about that in estimates. One of these days we're going to get the full story. The government can't keep this under wraps.

Photo of Helen PolleyHelen Polley (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It always comes out.

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

Yes, it always comes out. The Auditor-General knows about it; we're going to find out about it. There's an inquiry starting tomorrow afternoon and, bit by bit, this will all come out, but the government could do the right thing today and release these documents.

10:16 am

Photo of Rex PatrickRex Patrick (SA, Centre Alliance) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to take note of the minister's statements. I'd particularly like to go to the statement made by Minister Payne in respect of legal advice. Minister Payne made a statement that there is a long line of letters before this chamber that suggest that legal advice should not be tabled. Of course, everyone in this chamber has a view. They are informed in different ways and some are biased in particular ways. I put it that ministers shall not be judges in their own case. What we need to do is reflect on what the law is in relation to the disclosure of legal advice to a house of parliament.

I'm going to read from the case of Egan v Chadwick in the New South Wales Court of Appeal. Justices Spigelman and Meagher together say:

In performing its accountability function, the Legislative Council may require access to legal advice on the basis of which the Executive acted, or purported to act. ... access to such advice will be relevant in order to make an informed assessment of the justification for the Executive decision.


access to legal advice is reasonably necessary for the exercise by the Legislative Council of its functions.

What, if any access should occur is a matter 'of the occasion and of the manner' of the exercise of a power, not of its existence ...

That is two justices in the New South Wales Court of Appeal making very clear what the legal position is.

There were three judges involved in that case. The third judge, Justice Priestly, said that the justification for legal professional privilege does not apply when a house of parliament seeks the production of executive documents. He said that 'it must have the power to call for information relevant' to the 'fundamentally important task of reviewing, changing and adding to the statute law of the state'. He said:

... there will from time to time be information in Executive documents either necessary or useful for carrying out its task.

That task includes, of course, oversight. So there was a unanimous decision of the highest court in New South Wales dealing with a matter relating to the release of privileged documents to a chamber of a house, and it is unquestionably law in this country that the Senate is entitled to call for and receive legal advice.

People need to understand what the purpose of legal professional privilege is. Legal professional privilege has the sole purpose of allowing a client and a lawyer to exchange their views, knowing that that information is protected from ever being adduced in a court. It's a principle that has been upheld by the High Court, on numerous occasions, as to its importance. Substantive law has been declared by the High Court. Of course, if legal advice were tabled in this parliament, the protection still applies, because privilege then protects the information that is in the document from being adduced in court. Nothing is lost by providing that advice; the government loses none of the benefit of legal professional privilege by doing so.

So I am deeply disturbed that the Attorney-General, the first law officer of this country, would not seek to have the law applied inside these chambers, both the House and the Senate. And, indeed, I'm disappointed that Minister Payne, who is herself a lawyer, is taking a position that is contrary to the law in this country. Just to make it very clear, the Senate has a power to compel the production of information that is covered by privilege.

I want to go also to the issue of cabinet-in-confidence documents. I have been having some discussions with a number of people around this place, and it is once again with reservations that I co-sponsor the motion today to sanction the Minister representing the Prime Minister—and, like Senator Wong, I do have a great deal of respect for Senator Cormann. However, he is the captain of the government ship, and the captain must take responsibility. The Senate has made a call for documents, and he says that they are cabinet-in-confidence because they are submissions to the cabinet.

As I talked about yesterday in this place, there are two requirements for a document to be lawfully considered a cabinet document. Firstly, it must at 'birth' have been prepared for the dominant purpose of being submitted to cabinet. That is a question of fact that requires the provision of some evidence, which has not been provided, to this chamber. Secondly, of course, it must have been submitted to cabinet. There is an interesting thing, however, even if it were cabinet-in-confidence. Again, from the New South Wales Court of Appeal, then Chief Justice Spigelman held that 'it is not reasonably necessary' for the performance of those functions 'to call for documents the production of which would conflict with the doctrine of ministerial responsibility, either in its individual or collective dimension', referring to the cabinet. He also held that the revelation of documents prepared outside cabinet for submission to cabinet 'may or may not, depending on their content, be inconsistent with that doctrine'. In a sense he is suggesting that, if the document relates to perhaps some secret military operation, it's probably not appropriate to call for that cabinet document; but, if the cabinet document is a document which has been sprinkled with cabinet dust simply for the purpose of making sure that no-one else sees it because it's embarrassing, it is within the rights of the Senate to call for it.

In fact, I'm disturbed that this document has gone not to the full cabinet but to the Governance Committee of cabinet. We have a Governance Committee of cabinet that deals with indiscretions in a secretive manner. That in itself should be worrying to everyone. We have a Governance Committee of cabinet, on governance issues, that operates in secret. I find that really, really perverse.

To be fair, I will say that Justice Meagher had a different view. He said the immunity of cabinet documents from the New South Wales Legislative Council was 'complete'. We've got one judge in favour and one against, so we need to go to the third judge, Justice Priestley. He held that a court has 'the power to compel production to itself even of cabinet documents'. He said:

… equally there should be no objection in the different situation that arises between the Executive and a House of Parliament to the possession by another branch of government other than the Executive, of the same power …

So again, in law, there is no legal justification for not providing to the Senate chamber documents that have been called for. And again, it's regrettable that the Labor opposition, the Greens, One Nation, Jacqui Lambie Network and Centre Alliance are standing up for the Senate. We don't want to weaken the Senate. We have a document which is being withheld from the Senate purely because it is embarrassing—that is the only reason it is being withheld—and that is not appropriate. So I would urge the government, and I give this offer to them: I would withdraw my support for the motion were the government to table the document—even, table it to a committee of the cabinet and ask for confidentiality so that senators can see the document but perhaps it doesn't go into the public domain. I've made that offer to the government. But there is no way we can allow the government to hide the content of this document from senators. That is not permissible. It is inappropriate, and the Senate needs to take a stand on this. I will be supporting the motion this afternoon.

10:26 am

Photo of Kristina KeneallyKristina Keneally (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

'Well, I'll leave that stuff in the bubble. I don't comment on gossip or other stories. I just reject the premise of the question. I'll put your editorial to one side and your commentary on it.' These aren't my words, of course; these are the words of the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison. It is ironic that he says at every media conference that he is happy to take questions and then spends the rest of the media conference providing answers like the ones I've just outlined here. But worse than that irony is that we have a Prime Minister and a government, a Liberal government now in its seventh year, that are proving a developed allergy to scrutiny. With that allergy comes dire consequences for our political system and for the parliament. It engenders in the community a distrust in politicians, it creates a sense of frustration and hopelessness from the very people who need government working for them and, ultimately, it is an erosion of our democracy.

With the answers from the Prime Minister like the ones I read out, the Morrison government shows that it is quite willing to treat the Australian people with contempt. This is a government willing to frustrate; this is a government willing to dismiss journalists whose job it is to keep elected representatives accountable. Now, as we have seen with this corrupt sports rorts scheme, it's clear that the Morrison government does not have respect for taxpayers' dollars. To call this corrupt sports rorts scheme a saga, which some have done, is an understatement when it comes to describing how wilfully this Liberal National government has used, first $100 million and now, it's been revealed, another $150 million of taxpayers' money—our money, the Australian people's money—to win an election. This isn't just my assessment. This isn't just the Australian Labor Party's assessment. This just isn't a political attack. The independent Auditor-General in Australia—the person whose job it is to keep the government and its spending and decision-making under a magnifying glass—said more than 61 per cent of the projects awarded funding by sports rorts 1, as he is talking about here, or nearly two out of three, were not projects recommended by Sport Australia. Sixty-one per cent of the projects awarded funding were not recommended by Sport Australia. The Auditor-General goes on: there was a clear 'bias' towards 'marginal' seats and those that the Morrison government wanted to win to maintain power. The minister at the time, Senator McKenzie, and her office were running a parallel process to Sports Australia to—and I quote the Auditor-General—'identify which applications should be awarded funding'.

Senator Farrell made clear that some 2,000 groups—sports organisations, mums and dads, and volunteers—put in their applications to the Sport Australia funding program with the expectation that they would be assessed on their merits through a robust evidence based process, that they had a fighting and fair chance to compete against other sports groups for this funding. It's now well known, thanks to the reporting of ABC and Andrew Probyn, that this parallel process set up by Senator McKenzie in her office included a colour coded spreadsheet identifying—wait for it—the electorates and the parties that held the seats from which the applications had come. On what basis is that relevant?

Senator Polley interjecting

One would hope that Senator McKenzie was not, as Senator Polley suggested, learning to improve her colouring technique. Maybe she'd just learnt to use Excel spreadsheets and she thought it would be a fun exercise! That's not what happened. We know—don't we, Senator Polley?—that's not what happened, because the Auditor-General's report tells us that what happened is they set up a parallel process alongside Sport Australia to make their own determinations so that they could award funding to projects—what was it?—61 per cent of which were not recommended by Sport Australia.

Going back to this colour coded spreadsheet, what is also interesting is that the metadata of the document shows that it had been edited by a Liberal Party operative, an employee of then Minister McKenzie. It would be really interesting if we actually had this information fully in the public domain so that the parliament and the people of Australia, particularly those groups that missed out, could make an assessment of what really happened in Senator McKenzie's office and who else was involved, but I'll come to that in a moment. There is no denying what is happening, and there is no amount of deflection from a Prime Minister who is allergic to scrutiny because—what did he do when asked about this? He said it had nothing to do with him. Let's just park that there for a moment. It had nothing to do with him even though the Community Sport Infrastructure Grant Program was used as a $100 million slush fund to keep the Liberal-National government alive. Senator Wong made the point: does the Prime Minister really expect us to believe that something that happened in his government that involved $100 million being allocated on a political basis was not of interest to the adman, the marketing guy, who serves as the Prime Minister? I know we're not meant to use names besides official titles, but I will just acknowledge there are some in the community who refer to him as Scotty from marketing.

What's important here is to understand that the Prime Minister and the Morrison government weren't playing by the rules. What is one thing we teach our children when we enrol them in sport?

Photo of Glenn SterleGlenn Sterle (WA, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Road Safety) Share this | | Hansard source

Tell the truth.

Photo of Kristina KeneallyKristina Keneally (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

They should definitely always tell the truth, Senator Sterle, but we tell our children to play fair, to play by the rules, to abide by the umpire's ruling. That's one of the many values of sport—that children and participants learn to abide by the rules. The government weren't playing by the rules; they were actually making up their own. I think this is an important point here. The government's actions in withholding from the Senate, from the parliament and from the public information about what was really going on in relation to this corrupt sports rorts scheme—the government's determination to ignore Sport Australia, to not play by the rules and to run their own parallel process that they kept hidden from the public when allocating the money—go to show one thing about this third-term Liberal-National government, now in its seventh year: they don't want the power just to make the rules; they want the power to determine who gets to break the rules. They don't want the power just to make the rules; they want the power to determine who gets to break the rules. And it's them.

Photo of Catryna BilykCatryna Bilyk (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It's okay for them.

Photo of Kristina KeneallyKristina Keneally (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

It's okay for them to break the rules. Woe betide a union that gets their paperwork in a day late, because this government will deregister them. But a government that wants to spend, as Senator Farrell pointed out, a quarter of a billion dollars—

Photo of Helen PolleyHelen Polley (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

How much?

Photo of Kristina KeneallyKristina Keneally (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

A quarter of a billion—$250 million. There was $100 million in sports rorts 1 and $150 million in sports rorts 2 to buy themselves an election, and then they try to keep the whole thing behind closed doors, secret from the parliament. Sadly, this is what is eroding trust in the community in our political process. Honestly—does this government not care about the quality of our democracy, the quality of public debate, the trust in politicians? Unfortunately, it isn't just the government that wears this opprobrium; it's everyone who wants to do the right thing in public service, because it is an erosion of trust in our political system.

The majority of this chamber agreed that the documents we requested today should be made public. So where are they? They're not here. Senator Colbeck spent a whole 40 seconds in the chamber today dismissing the idea that these documents could be made public. Senator Payne wasn't much better: two minutes and 10 seconds, in which she explained to us some dubious advice that she was relying on and which meant she didn't have to tell us what was really going on. I've got to say, when normal Australians—one might call them quiet Australians—have a job they're required to turn up. They're required to turn up and do their job. If you are a nurse and your shift starts at midnight, you've got to be there. If you have what might be called a usual business day job and it starts at 9 am, your boss expects you to be there. If your task that day is to produce a report, your boss expects you to do it. This is what normal—one might say quiet—Australians do every day in their jobs. But, again, the rules that apply to normal, quiet Australians—everyday Australians who get on every day and live their lives and raise their families and play by the rules when they put in sports grants applications and show up on time at work and do the work their bosses expect—don't apply to those opposite. They didn't show up today: in 40 seconds Senator Colbeck was out of here and in two minutes and 10 seconds Senator Payne was out of here. And they didn't produce the reports that they were required to by this chamber.

The thing is, our bosses here in this chamber are the Australian people. They are the Australian people, and the Australian people, when they participated in these sports applications, did expect that, 'Hey, my application's going to be taken on its merits.' For example, there was a sports club that has women's teams currently changing in a tent. The Prime Minister went to the Press Club and he said this program—this is the marketing spin the Prime Minister puts on it—was specifically designed to ensure that girls didn't have to change out the back and in cars. Well, there was a club that we know about in this program. They currently have a women's team. They're changing in a tent. They were highly rated by Sport Australia. Did they get funding? No.

Photo of Helen PolleyHelen Polley (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

They were in the wrong electorate.

Photo of Kristina KeneallyKristina Keneally (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

They were in the wrong electorate, as Senator Polley points out. They had the bad luck to be living in a seat that the government didn't think was worth their while to spend money on in an election campaign. So what did they do? They gave money to the seat of Sturt, which we all remember was contested as a seat at the last election. It was abandoned by the former member Christopher Pyne. He probably felt they were going to lose.

Photo of Glenn SterleGlenn Sterle (WA, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Road Safety) Share this | | Hansard source

He's got his own rorts to worry about.

Photo of Kristina KeneallyKristina Keneally (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

He's got his own jobs to worry about now. He has been the subject of a report. In fact, that's a good point you raise, Senator Sterle, because Mr Pyne has been the subject of a report tabled here in this chamber.

Photo of Jenny McAllisterJenny McAllister (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Cabinet Secretary) Share this | | Hansard source

A lovely letter written by Dr Parkinson.

Photo of Kristina KeneallyKristina Keneally (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

A lovely letter written by the former head of the Public Service, Dr Martin Parkinson. So it's okay for the government to table documents relating to members who have left this place, but apparently members who are currently here, which may or may not include the Prime Minister, by the way—

Photo of Glenn SterleGlenn Sterle (WA, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Road Safety) Share this | | Hansard source

It's only legal when you leave, hey!

Photo of Kristina KeneallyKristina Keneally (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

As Senator Sterle points out, apparently when you're gone you can do whatever you want, but if you're still here you have a protection racket to run.

Photo of Helen PolleyHelen Polley (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It's a cover-up!

Photo of Kristina KeneallyKristina Keneally (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

It is a cover-up. I want to acknowledge and thank the crossbench, who have rightfully stood up and said, with the opposition, that the Senate is not going to be treated this way. At Senate estimates, what do we hear? 'I'll take that on notice.' But, when we get the answer on notice, there's no answer. One time I got an answer back—I think you did too, Senator Polley—that said, 'It would take too much time for us to answer that question.' This is the erosion of trust. This is the lack of transparency and accountability that we are getting from this third-term Liberal government, whether it is Senate estimates, the corrupt sports rorts scheme or the fact that this Senate voted for a production of documents and this government failed to produce them.

I want to acknowledge and extend my appreciation to the crossbench for its work not just in this debate today but in supporting the Senate inquiry into the sports rorts scheme, which kicks off tomorrow. Across the board the crossbench has supported a motion that will come before this Senate this afternoon that makes clear that we as a chamber are not going to let this government, unnoticed and without comment, erode the trust, transparency and accountability that a robust democratic system and the Australian people demand and expect in their parliament.

10:41 am

Photo of Janet RiceJanet Rice (Victoria, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Here we are again—another day, another corrupt coalition cover-up. It's becoming a bit run-of-the-mill; you just expect it. It is another day of an order for the production of documents, of information that is critical to having some transparency and accountability of how our processes of government are working or not working, and another day of ministers fronting up, giving a very terse, very short non-explanation of why they can't provide that information and then fleeing the chamber.

This is serious, and the Australian community know it is serious. This smells, and the Australian community know it smells. It's not something confined to this chamber, this parliament or, indeed, the so-called Canberra bubble. It's interesting, because this has permeated out to ordinary people all around the country. They know that there is corruption going on here. They know that there is a complete lack of accountability. They know that there is some serious, unfair, dodgy play going on.

The excuses that we've been given, that it's cabinet-in-confidence or that they just haven't quite had the time to get together the documents that the press gallery have had for three weeks, just don't wash. The Australian community know that they don't wash. The reason they know they don't wash is that this is a huge amount of money we're talking about. We've got sports rorts No. 1, of $100 million, and sports rorts No. 2, of $150 million. That is $250 million in all—a quarter of a billion dollars of our precious taxpayer money. It is staggering that this huge amount of money is basically just being used by this government as a slush fund to buy their way back into power.

They think they can get away with it. You hear the excuses. In spite of the report of the Australian National Audit Office, which lays it out chapter and verse—it is gobsmacking just how detailed it is and how much the Auditor-General's report says that there are some extremely questionable practices going on here—they just reckon they can tough it out. We've had Senator McKenzie being the scapegoat and taking the fall, but it wasn't even on the basis of the issues raised in the Auditor-General's report. There is no accountability. They reckon they can get away with it. But, I can tell you, they're not going to get away with it, because we have got $250 million and it goes to the heart of something that Australians care an awful lot about. They care about their sport. When it comes to sport, they particularly care about their community sporting clubs. People care about the basics of the way that sport operates—that is, that you have a fair process, that you have a level playing field, that both teams get the opportunity to compete on an equal basis. We can see that that is not what happened here with this allocation of $250 million.

The information we haven't been given—the colour coded spreadsheet that the media have had for three weeks but that Senator Colbeck says he hasn't quite had time to get together—lays out the Prime Minister's involvement; it wasn't just Senator McKenzie and her office. It lays out that there were decisions being made as to where that money would be spent, and it was going to favour the seats they wanted to win. We've asked for the legal advice because it seems quite likely that the minister actually didn't even have legal authority to be able to approve these grants. We've asked for the communications between the Minister for Sport and the offices of the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister. Of course—surprise, surprise!—we haven't been given this information because it's very clear that once this information comes out—and it will come out eventually—the trail will be there. It will be very clear that this goes far beyond just Bridget McKenzie on her own, having the idea: 'Well, I might put a bit of extra money and show a bit of favouritism to these few sports clubs.' No, this was a process that was cooked up by the government as a whole to say, 'Let's use this $250 million as a fund to help buy us government.'

I say that this isn't going to go away, that they can't tough it out, because it is something that people care about. It goes the heart of sport, which we all know is incredibly important to the Australian people. I live in Footscray, in the electorate of Gellibrand, which up until now has been for pretty much the whole of its existence a safe Labor seat. I can tell you that sports people and the community in the electorate of Gellibrand know that, being a safe seat, they're sadly not going to get the same funding, the same largesse, as marginal seats. They've known it all along. It leads to cynicism about politics. It leads to them wondering what's the point. It leads to the attitudes leading to the record low levels of trust in our democracy. This revelation really just makes those people even more cynical and even more tuned out of politics.

It is not the way it should be. Those sports clubs, whether they're in Footscray or Sunshine or Ardeer or St Albans, should have the same chance as the sports clubs in the Prime Minister's electorate or the sports clubs in the marginal seats the government is trying to win. You see this laid out, and they know that they haven't. It goes to their sense that it's just not fair. It is just not sporting behaviour. They put in all the time supporting their clubs which have dodgy sporting grounds, dodgy changing rooms and grounds that haven't seen an upgrade for 50 years. They put in all the time as volunteers, being there as umpires for the matches, taking the kids' uniforms home and handing out the oranges at quarter time. Yet they are not treated the same. They know that they didn't have a chance in these grant application rounds; the system was rigged against them from the start. They know that that's not right.

Then there are other clubs in other safe electorates no-one is interested in, such as the electorate of Gippsland. The Gippsland roller derby club has an incredible reputation in the community of supporting diversity in the community, encouraging the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community to be involved in sport, and they are doing great work. They put in an application. Their application was judged by Sport Australia to get 97 out of 100, and yet they missed out on a grant. They were only asking for $40,000, yet we have half a million dollars given to sports clubs in order to buy those votes.

I can tell this government that it doesn't wash and that it has permeated outside the Canberra bubble. This is going to haunt them completely to the next election because the people who really care about our democracy, people who really care about whether they can trust that decisions are made in an accountable and transparent way, know that it is not acceptable. It really goes to the heart of what we want to see in government. When we ask questions about this, we hear the government say all the time that they reject the premise of the question. Well, I want to let this government know that, come the next election, we are going to reject the premise of this government.

Photo of Kimberley KitchingKimberley Kitching (Victoria, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Government Accountability) Share this | | Hansard source

It being 10.50 am, the sitting of the Senate is suspended to enable senators to attend the Prime Minister's statement on Closing the Gap in the House of Representatives.

Sitting suspended from 10 : 50 to 12 : 05

12:05 pm

Photo of Nita GreenNita Green (Queensland, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Just to bring the parliament back after the suspension, we are talking today about the failure of the Morrison government to bring documents into the Senate following orders for the production of documents that were passed by the Senate. Minister Colbeck came in here and gave some lacklustre excuse, saying that he's refusing to release the colour coded spreadsheet. Does anyone really think that Minister Colbeck is going to turn up tomorrow and table this spreadsheet? I think it's very unlikely that that is going to happen. His excuse today was as wishy-washy and full of gobbledegook as some of the pathetic answers that we've heard in question time on this topic. Last week, when he was asked whether he'd seen the colour coded spreadsheet, he said he hadn't even seen it. Now he's refusing to bring it in. I really doubt that tomorrow, by 12 o'clock, the minister is going to bring the colour coded spreadsheet into the Senate. We'll give him the benefit of the doubt and that time. I will say it has been long enough. We know that this spreadsheet has been in existence. It is of crucial importance in the sports rorts saga for the public to know what information was held on that spreadsheet, who looked at it, who edited it, what clubs were rated with a certain score and how they were colour coded.

Let's not forget that when the minister found out that this spreadsheet did exist, when the ABC posted some of the information from the spreadsheet, the minister's first port of call—his first reaction to the existence of a spreadsheet such as this—was to issue a media release, essentially asking whether agencies had leaked the spreadsheet. He didn't seek to find the spreadsheet, to table it in parliament or to provide that information to the public so that we could really get to the bottom of the sports rorts saga. What he decided to do was attack the agencies, including the independent agency Sport Australia, who had given advice to the minister that this was a dodgy program to begin with. He started a witch-hunt. What a terrible response to finding out that there was a colour coded spreadsheet that showed that grants were decided not on merit but on whether they were in a marginal electorate.

Why has the Senate requested that this colour coded spreadsheet be presented? It's a very important document. I for one want to see all of the information that's contained in the document. But it's not just words that are contained in the document; it is the colour coding that is so important. Why is that? There's a reason the document wasn't in greyscale. It was colour coded for a reason. They were using this spreadsheet to decide how to give out grants based on whether the grant was for a marginal Liberal electorate or a marginal Nationals electorate. If it was colour coded red then they had to figure out a way to not make that grant. The spreadsheet, as I said, was colour coded for a reason. It was so colourful, so eye-catching, you could probably dress as this colour coded spreadsheet for Mardi Gras. I know it's coming up in a couple of weeks. I wouldn't be surprised if we saw a colour coded spreadsheet float walk down Oxford Street, because this thing was lit up. And we need to see the information that is in this spreadsheet, not walking down Oxford Street—although I would like to see that—but tabled in the Senate. The public deserves to know how the grants were assessed in the parallel process that the minister used to decide how grants would be given out. I know they won't release it—I wouldn't be surprised if they don't release it at all. I know Minister Colbeck has said that he is coming back to the Senate tomorrow to deal with this order for the production of documents, but we know that they're not going to release the document, because it is so damning. It shows the truth of how this process was conducted, and that is why they don't want to release it.

The other reason they don't want to release the document is that it would blow out of the water this notion that the sports rorts saga and the sports rorts saga 2 were all about helping women in sport. And, quite frankly, I want to see the spreadsheet because I am sick and tired of listening to the government coming in here and saying that what they were doing was to help women in sport, that it was about getting women change rooms and making sure that more women can participate.

We know that this government is hiding behind supposed support for women's sport as a reason for political interference in this program and that it was meant to be merit based. We know that because not only have we seen sports rorts saga 2 come around—a program that you weren't even allowed to apply for that the Prime Minister called 'the female facilities and water safety stream of funding', which was $150 million, not $100 million, and Scott Morrison said that that funding would support the development of change room facilities for sporting grounds and community swimming facilities across Australia—but, when we looked at where that money actually went, less than 15 per cent of that funding went to female change rooms. At the same time, he pumped $120 million into pools not across Australia, as he promised to do, but in coalition-held electorates, including more than $100 million for marginal coalition-held electorates. So, pardon the pun, because there are a lot of pools involved, but this notion that they were out there to help women in sport doesn't hold water. It is actually insulting to women who play sport, who love sport, that senators from the other side are coming in here and using support for women in sport as a smokescreen and trying to hide behind this as a support mechanism. We know it's not true because we know that clubs that applied to have female change rooms missed out on funding. Clubs that were scored higher than other clubs should have received funding but didn't because they weren't in a targeted seat. When we go back to the colour-coded spreadsheet, we find out: 'Oh, they didn't have the right colour applied to their grant.'

It has been revealed that a specific club in regional Queensland, the Innisfail rugby league and netball club, actually had a grant knocked back by the colour-coded spreadsheet process. They submitted an application in 2018 for $295,000 to build female change rooms under the sports grants program. The application itself got a score of 76 out of 100—well within the recommendations that Sport Australia would have made to the minister. The vice president and chairman of the board of the Innisfail Brothers Leagues Club, Vince O'Brien, said he got really good feedback on the application and that it was extremely well done and rated highly—that's the feedback he got on the application to build these female change rooms in regional Queensland, in Innisfail, in a non-marginal seat. But then Mr O'Brien says: 'But then we got knocked back. Obviously, something happened that we are unaware of.' We know what happened: there was a parallel process conducted by the Minister for Sport at the time, Senator Bridget McKenzie, and other members of the government's campaign team. 'Obviously, something happened that we are unaware of.' Well, we would like to know how that happened to this club in regional Queensland and we would like to make sure that the documents that the Senate has asked for, which would provide some clarification for members of the community, like Mr O'Brien, are tabled in the Senate.

I will say this about women's sport: frankly, it is insulting to women who play sport that a government would try to hide behind them to get themselves out of this political scandal. Nobody has forgotten that this government cut funding to the ABC, which meant that coverage of both the W-League and the Women's National Basketball League ceased, ending 35 years of commitment to regular coverage of women's sports. I haven't forgotten about those cuts and the women who play sport haven't forgotten about those cuts. This week the Matildas, our national women's soccer team, the most-loved team in the country, are playing international qualifiers and we can't watch them on free-to-air TV.

To those opposite: don't come in here and decide that you're going to pin this political scandal on your supposed support for women's sport, because it doesn't hold water; it is splashing in the pools that you haven't even built in places like Corangamite. Nobody believes you. That's why you don't want to present these documents, because you know that, when they are tabled, they will make sure that people know that the reason you gave these grants out was to prop up your campaigns in marginal seats, and you'll have to go out to the women of Australia who play sport and explain to them why you used them as a scapegoat. I'm happy for you to go and have that conversation with them, because they already know your government's record on women in sport.

I want to go, finally, to the two other documents that the Senate has asked for: the Gaetjens report and the advice from the Attorney-General on legal authority. No-one can understand why the government won't release these reports, when they are seemingly so proud and so confident about what they say. They're so confident about the information in these reports yet they will not table them in parliament.

In the Prime Minister's press conference he said, in regard to the PM&C report:

While there may be differing views about the fairness of the process, the Minister used the discretion she was afforded accordingly. The Secretary concludes, 'I do not believe there is a basis for you to find that the Minister had breached standards in that respect.' He goes on to note that he did not find evidence that this process was unduly influenced by reference to marginal or targeted electorates.

That is an incredibly different statement from the Auditor-General's report, and, conveniently, one that gets the government out of a whole lot of trouble. To those opposite: if it's such an important report, if it clears the government of unduly influencing the process by reference to marginal and targeted electorates, then why won't you table it? Why won't you bring it in here? Put the saga to bed. Tell the public what they want to know. Bring the information in here.

The other piece of advice that Minister Payne won't table is the legal advice from the Attorney-General. The Prime Minister said:

There was also a matter that was raised in relation to the legality of the action and decisions taken in the authority for the Minister. And I referred that matter to the Attorney-General … Having consulted with the AGS and in the preparation of this advice, he—

the Attorney-General—

considers that the Auditor-General's assumption arising out of his apparent interpretation of section 11 of the Australian Sports Commission Act is, as he notes with respect, not correct.

Again, it is very convenient that this advice is in complete contrast to the Auditor-General's report. It's very convenient and it's great for the government. It clears them again. But we can't see it; the public can't see it. They don't want to table it because they know that if we get our hands on that document we might get more information that we need to know about this sports rorts saga. We might finally find out why clubs in Innisfail missed out—clubs in regional Queensland that need jobs and depend on this government. We are going to find out why people in Innisfail missed out on female change rooms, and we're not going to like the answer. That's why they're not going to come and table the documents—because they have no transparency and no accountability to the Australian people.

12:20 pm

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

I rise this morning to note this government's disturbing and frankly despicable attempts to avoid transparency and to shirk accountability. Trust amongst people in our democracy is at the lowest it has ever been. Democratic satisfaction has actually plummeted in the last decade from 86 per cent in 2007 to just 40 per cent in 2018. I can bet that if we asked the community right now how much they trust democracy in Australia, it would be in freefall thanks to this Liberal-National government. No amount of spin that Prime Minister Scott Morrison from marketing does will change that, because that is the reality. That is the truth, and that is absolutely shameful.

Rule No. 1 for the Liberals and Nationals in politics is that there are always more sports grants to rort. The community might be forgiven for thinking that $100 million in grants allocated to marginal seats with a colour-coded spreadsheet would be as bad as it would get. But of course it never is with this government; there's always worse to come. The next revelation was the rorting of the $150 million. That was money intended for women's sports programs that instead found its way to seats the government was desperate to hang onto.

In Port Macquarie, which used to be my home and is in my home state of New South Wales, the government were so desperate to pork barrel their way into an election win that they completely ignored the community and the local council and promised them $4.5 million for a pool that they did not want and which the government knew was never likely to be built. This is perfect material for shows like Utopia on ABC. It would be funny if it weren't this serious. Robbing communities of sports facilities and upgrades that they desperately need, and then using that public money to win elections frankly makes me cry rather than laugh.

All this government can do is this corruption of public money and covering up. They do not even have the guts to own up to what they have done and—maybe this is a very foreign concept to them—perhaps apologise for it and make up for it. Not this government. It should be an essential principle of our work here that communities and local councils should not be ignored in planning. It might sound like a cliche, but it is true that they are the voice of the community, they are the closest to the community. The fact that this government has done that shows that the Liberal-Nationals have an absolute contempt for the community.

This contempt doesn't just stop at sports rorts. There is a long history of rorting parliamentary entitlements, the rorting of grant announcement processes for political purposes, and the shameless rorting of public funds that subsidises the coal, gas and oil giants that are fuelling the climate crisis we are currently in. Even before the sports rorts scandal forced her resignation as minister, Senator McKenzie asked the Department of Health to fund a $165,000 study into her favourite hobby, shooting. She asked the Department of Health to divert funds from their important work in order to commission an entire report aimed at nothing other than making the case for recreational hunting and shooting. My order for the production of documents that this chamber passed last week requires the government to reveal her role in this waste of funds. It was due today, but obviously it's been delayed until tomorrow. We'll wait and to see if it ever comes to the table in this chamber.

Just as they're avoiding the release of the Gaetjens report, they are stalling over the handling of emails from Senator McKenzie that would show exactly her involvement in this report, and that is a complete disgrace. At the end of the day, though, it is not just Senator McKenzie who's involved in this. The buck really does stop with Prime Minister Scott Morrison. It is he who has to own up, front up and tell us all what he and his government have been up to, what he and his government are trying to cover up now. Nothing less will satisfy this chamber and nothing less will satisfy the community outside of this chamber.

The shameless Morrison government is rotten to its core. They are compromised right from the top down. That is why they run scared from a federal ICAC. That is why they hide behind secret reports. That is why they betray the public in rort after rort. We will keep holding Scott Morrison and his cronies to account. We will keep doing everything we can to kick the government out because that's what they deserve.

12:26 pm

Photo of Jordon Steele-JohnJordon Steele-John (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Let's be really clear about what is going on here. The Morrison government was caught red-handed engaging in nothing less than politically motivated robbery—robbery of community for political gain. They were caught by the independent processes which exist, thankfully, in some corners of our system. They were caught and exposed for the crooked, corrupt and irredeemably self-focused shambles that they are.

The Senate has requested that the government provide documentation in relation to this scandal, and the response of the government has been to treat this request with contempt. It is a contempt which is emblematic of an insidious culture which has infected our politics for decade after decade—a culture of entitlement, an idea that the major parties in this place are rightfully empowered to use public funds for their political purposes if the polls are getting a bit tight. Let's be really clear: this is not something that the Labor Party is free of. In the year before I was born, 1993, the Keating government was caught doing exactly the same thing. This sense of entitlement that the major parties have about using public funds for their own purposes is bipartisan.

Minister McKenzie may well have been forced to resign, but the resignation of one minister is not a cure-all for a deeply ingrained cultural problem. You cannot cure culture by scapegoating. The only cure for this type of misuse of public funds is the implementation of a federal anticorruption commission, the very policy proposal that the Greens here, on behalf of the community, have been advocating for more than a decade. For more than a decade, we have been in here arguing for it; and, for more than a decade, the major parties pushed back on that and did everything they could to protect their mates, to protect their donors, to protect the revolving door between this place and the private sector that guarantees so many that serve in here a job in one firm or another, in one consultancy or another, when their time in this place comes to an end. This closed shop of corruption, this mutually supportive pact that has existed in this place for so long, is exactly why the Australian people regard this parliament as a space in which their hopes, dreams and aspirations, the diversity of their communities, their desires for the future come to die, come to be ground into a million pieces by the political pacts of the major parties to put their own self-interest ahead of the needs of the Australian community, ahead of the needs of people and planet.

Many of us in here have been shocked by the naked disregard for accountability that has been shown by the Morrison government here today. But many of the community are not shocked; they didn't expect anything less. I mean, this is a government which has taken to colour-coding corruption. This is a government which has taken to investigating itself in the face of independent inquiry and proving itself to be innocent. This is a government led by a man whom the Australian people know to be devoid of any particular moral compass or sense of duty; these things were long ago sold off by the Morrison government to the highest corporate bidder. Sadly, people now also expect to see the Labor Party follow along meekly behind the government, piping up here and piping up there but never really rocking the boat, because they are still having 'a bit of a sad' about losing the election.

There is a feeling, unfortunately, of dark comedy about this particular spectacle. There's been a lot of hot air displayed in this chamber this afternoon; there'll be a lot of hot air displayed tomorrow. The red side of the chamber will accuse the blue side of the chamber of being absolutely unfit to govern the country—'Oh my God, we should have an election now!'—and on and on and on it will go. And we'll come back here in 10 years and the same thing will happen again—unless we change the culture, unless we put the fear of God into the major political parties in this place. There is one way to do that: threaten their ability to be re-elected. We need an anticorruption commission at the federal level, empowered to hold both sides to account and to leave no stone unturned. We need a federal anticorruption commission. We need reforms to donations. We need an ending of that revolving door, with penalties at such a severe level that you would be ejected from this place. And then watch how quickly this shit will stop happening!

Photo of Marise PayneMarise Payne (NSW, Liberal Party, Minister for Foreign Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

Madam Acting Deputy President, that's not appropriate language for the chamber. I suggest the senator should withdraw.

Photo of Jordon Steele-JohnJordon Steele-John (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I withdraw and substitute 'stuff'.

Photo of Carol BrownCarol Brown (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Tourism) Share this | | Hansard source

The Senator has withdrawn. Senator Steele-John, Please proceed.

Photo of Jordon Steele-JohnJordon Steele-John (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you, Madam Acting Deputy President. The reality is that this cycle of pageantry will continue until we end the culture.

Again I remind this place that no one of you—Liberal and Labor alike—is free of similar situations. We could have a very long conversation in this place about the New South Wales Labor Party. We could have a very long conversation in this place about the Tasmanian Liberal Party. We could have conversation after conversation about scandal after scandal that has pervaded both sides of politics for decades. That is not what the Australian people want. The Australian people want to see this circus end. They are sick to death of seeing their money misused in this way, and they are also sick to death of us using these moments to re-enact this pantomime.

As we talk about what it means for the National Party, what it means for Senator McKenzie and what the implications might be for the future of Barnaby Joyce in the other place, what is forgotten? What is forgotten is that the impact of this corruption on people ruins lives and harms communities. There are a number of projects that in the course of the past few weeks have come to light where disabled people applied to this government for modifications to their community, including their sporting clubs, to enable them to participate in community. Because they lived in safe National seats, seats that the coalition didn't think they needed to win at the next federal election, they were overlooked. There are communities now—I'm thinking particularly of Horsham—who were overlooked for desperately needed modifications and improvements to their community, because that seat was not in contention. That is a disgrace.

I know what it is like to not be able to access a local community pool. I know what it is like to look out at kids on sporting fields and know that you can't participate. It breaks your heart. To hear that situations like that have been continued because Morrison and his mates were getting together—the Prime Minister and the Nationals were getting together—and planning how to spend $250 million to win themselves an election to scrape back into power—is revolting. That is why the Australian people are revolted with this government, and that is why they are so urgently demanding an anticorruption commission to clean this up and make sure that it never happens again. I thank the chamber for its time.

12:37 pm

Photo of Katy GallagherKaty Gallagher (ACT, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Finance) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to make a few comments. I'm conscious that senators' statements start at a quarter to one, so I will keep my comments rather brief, but I want to lend support to my colleagues' contributions this morning in pushing back against the government's lack of transparency and accountability in this chamber. We've seen this week numerous attempts, through orders for the production of documents, where reasonable requests have been made for the government to table information that would assist the Senate to perform its job as the chamber of review, the chamber with powers to inquire into matters. To fulfil that obligation or that responsibility that we have to the Australian people, we have forms available to us in this chamber should we get a majority of votes, which we were able to do on, I think, more than six occasions this week, where motions were moved by different non-government senators to request information that would help the Senate perform its role as the chamber of review. In each one of those, we've had the minister come into this place and essentially provide no further information and hide behind some pretty spurious cabinet-in-confidence claims or public interest immunity claims to withhold documents from this place.

These documents are critical to the ability of the Senate and senators to perform their duties. We are not seeking deliberations of cabinet and we do not seek unreasonable access to any other information around the sports grants administration or thereof. What we want, in particular—apart from key documents that are raised in the Auditor-General's report, which have been refused and held back—is, importantly, a report from the head of the Public Service which essentially contradicts, or certainly undermines, the report that was provided by the Auditor-General.

And we don't actually know that the report said that. We know only what the Prime Minister has said in his public comments—that the head of PM&C, Mr Gaetjens, did not have similar findings to the Auditor-General and that he didn't see any inappropriateness in the allocation of grants. Well, that is a fundamental disagreement with the independent Auditor-General, who had undertaken, I think, probably a much more extensive inquiry and review into this matter. So we have two reports: one from the independent Auditor-General, saying one thing, and quotes from the Prime Minister about a report which disagrees with the Auditor-General.

There is a huge amount of public interest in this matter. It has been a story which has been covered widely for over two months now. To get to the bottom of it, that report needs to be released. There are no reasonable grounds to withhold that document from the Senate. The Senate needs to assert its role here, the role it plays within the federal parliament and also in our democracy, and that is in how this chamber was set up. It's not often a majority chamber. Often, the government of the day will have to work with non-government senators in order to progress its agenda. There is a range of negotiations, agreements and concessions that have to be part of the mix in this chamber.

But the Senate cannot be taken for granted. It is not a majority chamber and you cannot run it like the House of Representatives, where—apart from electing Deputy Speakers and other close votes, it seems—the government does have majority control and can act in a way that disregards the influence of other members of that chamber. Well, this chamber doesn't work like that. This chamber works in a different way. It was established to play a different role. Based on the way that this government is treating orders for production of documents, based on the way that it treats senators at estimates—taking things on notice, not providing documents and making public interest immunity claims—and based on the way it treats questions on notice in the same way, saying, 'It will take too many resources to actually answer that question,' it is showing a continuing pattern of a lack of accountability and transparency. And non-government senators are sick of it.

That's how we got ourselves into this position today. Again, it's another day where we're taking note of more ministers coming in and providing no answers to the orders for production of documents. And this is how we've got ourselves to a motion that we'll be dealing with later today. This is the Senate pushing back. It's a message to the Morrison government that it has to work with people, it shouldn't be arrogant and it needs to uphold proper conventions and past practice in this chamber, and that accountability, transparency and honesty matter. Honesty matters to the Australian people and it matters to us in this place, and we will pursue it. We will not just be disregarded in the way that government senators have been treating non-government senators in response to reasonable requests for information.

The Senate will be here for the long run, much beyond when all of us in this place are here. We must protect the power and ability of the Senate to stand up and at times curtail the excesses of executive government, because that is our job here. I wish we were on the government benches, and I know that when we are we will be charged with similar responsibilities in terms of respect for this chamber and working with non-government senators to progress our agenda. I get that. This is not overreach. This is us sending a message that what happens here matters, that the conventions in this place matter and that we need to stand up. Essentially, we have watched the arrogance of this Prime Minister grow over the last seven months or so, with him believing he is untouchable and unreachable and that what he says goes. Well, that might work at times over in the other place and it might work at times in the party room—although we've seen different accounts and reports of that in the last few days—but this place works differently.

I recognise that senators are waiting to make statements, so I will finish on that note.

Question agreed to.