Thursday, 3 September 2020
Questions without Notice
Community Sport Infrastructure Grant Program
My question is to the Minister for Sport, Senator Colbeck: The Prime Minister claims his only involvement in the rorted Community Sport Infrastructure Grants Program was to pass on 'representations made to us as every Prime Minister has always done'. But the Auditor-General last night told the Select Committee on Administration of Sports Grants he had never previously seen so much interaction between a Prime Minister's office and the minister across the entire duration of a grants program. What was the Prime Minister's true involvement in this program?
The ANAO also revealed the then minister's office drafted notes for a meeting with the Prime Minister that included: 'How many additional projects in marginal and target seats could be funded?' Was the Community Sport Infrastructure Grants Program funding increased to allow the Prime Minister to make more pork-barrelling announcements?
I think it's quite unsurprising that a minister who's looking to promote funding into their portfolio would meet with the Prime Minister proposing to do exactly that. I've done that a number of times in my portfolios, and the record of that is public to see—$1.5 billion into aged care for COVID-19. So, I think it's quite unsurprising that a minister would go to a meeting with the Prime Minister to advocate for additional funding into a program that had received significant—
The point of order is on relevance. The minister is avoiding the question by talking in the abstract. He was asked a very direct question on whether this program was increased to allow the Prime Minister to make more pork-barrelling announcements. I would ask him to return to the question.
The minister is being directly relevant to the extent that he can be directly relevant as somebody who was not the minister at the time. Direct relevance has to be seen in the context of who is being asked the question. Senator Colbeck is answering the question in a directly relevant way to the extent he can, given that he was not the minister at the time and was not involved in this process at the time.
On the point of order, the minister was asked about a meeting. It contained somewhat loaded terminology, and I've said before that, when there are very specific questions seeking fact, being directly relevant requires a very strict interpretation. When there is more loaded and contested terminology, ministers have more discretion in responding and remaining directly relevant, including challenging the assertions. The minister is being directly relevant, in my view, and I'll call him to continue his answer.
Thank you, Mr President. As I was about to say, this was a very, very popular program. In the first round, there were over 2,000 applications. Given the popularity of the program, I'm not surprised that the then minister went back to ERC and the Prime Minister— (Time expired)
Honourable senators interjecting—
I've long been of the view that ministers should be given the chance to respond to questions which contain assertions. I will say that is getting close to not being a supplementary question, in my view, dealing as it does with effectively a different portfolio that happens to be the minister's other one. I'm not going to rule it out of order; I'm just going to say I think it comes very close to the line. Senator Colbeck will have an opportunity to respond.
I really have no choice but to completely reject the premise of the question. I was not party to the decisions with respect to sport funding made in the previous parliament. But I believe, from the understanding that I have, all of the decisions made to increase the funding for this program were appropriately made through the ERC process. Accordingly, the grant program and the program were administered from there.