Thursday, 3 September 2020
Community Sport Infrastructure Grant Program; Order for the Production of Documents
I seek leave to move a motion relating to an order for the production of documents as circulated in the chamber.
Leave not granted.
Pursuant to contingent notice standing in the name of Senator Waters, I move:
That so much of the standing orders be suspended as would prevent Senator Siewert moving a motion to provide for the consideration of a matter, namely, a motion to give precedence to a motion relating to an order for the production of documents.
What I'm seeking to do here is to move a motion from myself and Senator Farrell that calls that there be laid on the table by the minister for sport no later than 10 am on 7 September 2020 a copy of the talking points prepared by the office of the former minister for sport concerning the expansion of funding for the Community Sport Infrastructure grant program ahead of her meeting with the Prime Minister on 28 November 2018; any records of that 28 November 2018 meeting; the subsequent exchange of letters referring to that meeting as a basis for expanding funding for the Community Sport Infrastructure grant program; and any evidence the government is able to provide on the minister's legal authority to be the decision-maker in the Community Sport Infrastructure grant program
This is a program that has stunk for a very long time. There's a long list of documents that the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, and his Liberal Party machine have withheld from the parliament, which I have just listed and are listed in our motion. That is why it is so important that they are provided to this chamber and the public. The government have withheld legal advice from Sport Australia, who were perfectly happy to provide responses to these inquiries. It's easy for these things to get lost in all the procedural talk, but the truth is that this matters for everyday people out there in the community. It counts, and it's important for the people who were affected by this particular process. But it's also really important that we get to the bottom of this. If we don't, it could happen again, and we never want to see this sort of thing happen again.
I want to quote from one of the witnesses who appeared before the committee, Dr James Meyer, President of the Goolwa District Pony Club:
We put our heart and soul into these applications . We're doing it for nothing. We're going it for the love of the sport and the community that we're involved in. To have it tinkered with in such a disingenuous way is disappointing. Politicians might look at why we distrust them; it's activities like these that foster that distrust. We will obviously keep applying for grants, including local council, state and federal. We'll still put as much effort in, because we still want as good a chance as we can. We just want the same integrity and return that we put in to come back to us.
We can understand the anger and disappointment that people would feel on finding out about these rorts. We've heard from the Gippsland Ranges Roller Derby club, who had the highest assessment score in almost 2,000 evaluations but got nothing out of the funding in this rorted program. We've heard from clubs across the country about the hours they've put in—most of them by volunteers—preparing plans, getting approvals and writing submissions, only to see the funding go to country clubs chosen by the Liberal and National parties as part of what is pork-barrelling.
The Liberal Party should come clean with the Australian people about what they've done. They should provide us with these documents: a copy of those talking points ahead of that 28 November 2018 meeting; any records or explanations as to why they didn't minute a meeting where the PM approved an extra $30 million in funding; and a copy of the letter formalising the agreement between the Prime Minister and the minister at the time, Minister McKenzie. They should also provide some basic legal evidence for the minister's legal authority even to have been the decision-maker in this program. It is frankly just astonishing that in all of the evidence here in the chamber and in the committee inquiry, there has not been a single piece of evidence put forward as to the basis on which the minister has the legal authority to be the decision-maker.
This program stinks to high heaven. This is why we have taken the step of moving to suspend standing orders to get this OPD through to get these documents on the table. It's critically important that we get to the bottom of how these rorts happened and make sure they never happen like this again.
That is now the second attempt by non-government senators to disrupt the orderly operation of the Senate. We have important business of the nation to transact including, of course, the payment terms legislation put forward by Senator Cash and the very important citizenship cessation legislation, which Labor previously indicated was very important to them by moving a particular motion earlier today. So I assume that Labor will be opposing this suspension motion because, like the government, they would want us to get to the citizenship cessation arrangements as swiftly as possible, because that is a very important reform to protect and support our national security arrangements. I will not waste the Senate's time any further. I urge senators to oppose this suspension and to get on with the business of the day.
Labor will be supporting the suspension. We think we can support the suspension, support the motion, support the payment times bill and support the citizenship cessation bill getting dealt with today.
I'm not going to take up the Senate's time either other than to say that every time the sports rorts inquiry meets it uncovers another bit of detail about the dodginess that went on with this sports grants program. It says everything about this government—that program sums it up. It's all about the marketing, the spin, the secrecy, the rorting and the pork-barrelling. That's what went on in this program, and the government should actually learn from its mistakes with this program and release all the information so we know exactly what went on: what the minister's involvement was, what the Prime Minister's involvement was and why $44 million was allocated to targeted and marginal seats after caretaker began. Seemingly, the government don't mind that that's the way they conducted themselves. It's dodgy and it stinks. The information should be provided to the Senate, and that's why we support the suspension and the motion.
Every day we learn more about the scale of the rorting by the Liberal and the National parties, and last night's hearing of the select inquiry into sports rorts revealed so much more. It is absolutely vital that the government comes clean—and that it comes clean quickly—and reveals the extent to which they rorted this grants program basically to turn it into a pre-election slush fund aimed at shoring up votes in targeted and marginal seats.
Last night we learned that, despite all the public spin, the Prime Minister was deeply involved in deciding to rort this whole program to try to buy votes in marginal and targeted seats and, in doing so, overturning the recommendations of Sport Australia and trashing the trust of people and sports clubs across the country who had thought that their grant was being assessed in a fair and objective process where it didn't matter where you lived or who you knew in order to get funded. I want to take you through some of the details of what we learned last night, because they highlight the importance of the documents that we are seeking under this order for the production of documents and why we need to see them absolutely pronto.
We found out that, before Sport Australia had even finished assessing their applications, former Minister McKenzie wrote to the Prime Minister on 17 October 2018 seeking extra funding, and she provided the Prime Minister with a spreadsheet entitled 'Copy of Electorate Divisions of Applications'. What this is is pretty clear just from the title of that document. In other words, 'Here's what you need to know, Prime Minister—which electorates the grants under this community sports infrastructure program are in.' This was before Sport Australia had even finished assessing the applications.
McKenzie's office was emailing the Prime Minister's office with information about whether they were in targeted or marginal seats in order to ask for extra funding. And then, a few weeks later, in November, McKenzie's office sent two more spreadsheets to the Prime Minister's office prior to a meeting that she had scheduled with the Prime Minister on 20 November. One spreadsheet's got the details of the $30 million program, and the other's got the detail of a $100 million and identifies that there would be 109 more grants—
We're currently debating a suspension motion as far as I can tell, but I can only hear from Senator Rice a whole heap of political points being made and a bit of her version of history of events. I wonder if you could ask Senator Rice to be relevant to the question before the chair.
There's traditionally some discretion granted, but I am going to ask at least for the speech to be made relevant. There have been some slippages in this, and they seem to be becoming more common. I ask senators to address the motion to suspend standing orders, not necessarily the substantive one they wish to move.
I am seeking to suspend standing orders so that we can get this OPD voted on today so that the information that was revealed at last night's meeting is there for the public to be able to realise the extent that this government has been rorting the program. Going back to the chronology, which we learned about only last night—this is why it's urgent—the day before the scheduled meeting with the Prime Minister, former Minister McKenzie met with her staff to prepare for that meeting. We found out last night that, as part of that preparation, there was a four-page set of talking points that were prepared for Senator McKenzie which focused on how many extra projects in marginal and targeted electorates would be funded if the program was increased to $100 million. These talking points are one of the documents that we are seeking to have with this OPD.
We need to see these talking points. We need to have them laid on the table. All of Australia needs to see them, especially the mums and dads who gave their all to putting in applications for the incredibly worthy projects that didn't get funded through this grants program—that missed out because the Minister for Sport and the Prime Minister were colluding on how to rort the program to buy votes. That meeting between Minister McKenzie and the Prime Minister actually didn't end up taking place until 28 November, but then, just days after the meeting, surprise, surprise, the program gets extra funding. Then there was a letter exchanged that specifically referred to an agreement in that meeting. We need to see that letter.
We also learned last night that, on 4 March—just two months out from the election—the Prime Minister's office asked McKenzie's office for information about the unfunded projects, including which ones had coalition MPs lobbying for them. The Prime Minister is up to his neck in this, and we need to see this information so that it is absolutely clear to the people of Australia how much it is. The government needs to come clean. The Prime Minister needs to come clean about his role in rorting this grants program, and we need to see all the documentation of how this occurred. This whole affair stinks to high heaven, and the longer there is a delay in sharing this critical information, the longer this stink is going to hang around.