Senate debates

Thursday, 18 February 2021

Answers to Questions on Notice

Question No. 69

3:19 pm

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

Pursuant to standing order 74(5), I ask the Minister representing the Prime Minister for an explanation as to why an answer has not been provided to question on notice No. 69, asked of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet on 20 October during the budget estimates hearing of the Finance and Public Administration Legislation Committee. It related to a letter from former Minister McKenzie to the Prime Minister about the community sports infrastructure program.

Photo of Simon BirminghamSimon Birmingham (SA, Liberal Party, Minister for Finance) Share this | | Hansard source

On a point of order initially, can I clarify from the senator if this is a question that was asked by Senator Rice or by another senator?

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

Yes, it was asked by me.

Photo of Simon BirminghamSimon Birmingham (SA, Liberal Party, Minister for Finance) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank Senator Rice. That didn't necessarily concur with my understanding, but it was only quite late into question time that I, at least, received information about your intent to query this matter. I don't have the details to provide to the senator at present. But I will seek to find an explanation and the answer to that question from the relevant department and provide it to the chamber at a later time.

3:20 pm

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

Thank you. I move:

That the Senate take note of the minister's explanation.

Essentially, this was a very simple yes/no question. There is a lack of a response to a question on notice from estimates about letters between then Minister McKenzie and the Prime Minister in relation to the Community Sport Infrastructure Grant Program. I asked the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet about whether they had seen a copy of the letters that former Minister McKenzie wrote to the Prime Minister in late 2018 after they had met to seek an expansion of funding for the Community Sport Infrastructure Grant Program. I asked whether the department and the secretary were aware of those letters at the time they were sent. What I was told in estimates was that they didn't believe so, but they would need to check to make sure that the answer was accurate. And, five months on from October, we don't yet know whether that answer was accurate. The response to the question is overdue; it's now February.

In fact, the reason I wanted to bring this to the attention of the Senate today is that it goes to the complete lack of transparency and accountability and the unwillingness to furnish all of the information that the Senate needs for the whole process of the Community Sport Infrastructure Grant Program. The issue as to when the department became aware is quite a critical one, because, if the department in fact hadn't known—and it seems that they did not know of the letters between the Minister for Sport and the Prime Minister seeking an expansion of funding—it actually goes very much to the whole point that we have been making about this sports rorts program. Our point is that this was not a standard budget process, and the decision to expand the program and to change who was receiving grants from the recipients that had been recommended by Sport Australia was a political process.

The Prime Minister has claimed, during the whole 12 months that we have been focused on sports rorts, that the decision to expand the program from $30 million to $100 million was a standard budget process. If that were the case then surely the letters would actually have shown up in the Parliamentary Document Management System with dates, and the department would have known about them. They would have responded to those letters. But the fact that the department didn't appear to know about the letters, which we need to have confirmed, explains why the department only learnt about the letters more than a year later, during the Gaetjens review. That was the review into all of the pork-barrelling that occurred to help the government win the election. It appears that the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet only learnt about the letters during that review. It's worth noting that the Gaetjens review was the sole examination of this issue by the government. But, from what they told us in estimates—and it appears that we don't know whether it's accurate or not, because I haven't had the response to this question on notice—it looks like they didn't have the letters when the exchange occurred, because it was a political process.

The increase in funding approved by the Prime Minister was a political decision based on the number of projects in marginal and targeted seats that could be funded in the months leading up to the 2019 election. It's now more than a year since the Audit Office released their report on the Community Sport Infrastructure Grant Program—more than a year that this Senate has been trying to piece together all the bits of information to find out exactly what went on. It's more than a year since we woke up to the news and were horrified to hear that the government had taken a community sports program with applications from hundreds of community sports groups and turned it into a political rort that was being run out of the Prime Minister's office.

There have been umpteen questions over that whole year that have not been answered. The government and the Liberal Party have been trying to hold things up and slow things down—refusing to provide key documents to the Senate select committee. Not answering this question today is just another one of the questions that haven't been answered. We haven't had meaningful answers to my other questions about the meeting between the Prime Minister and former Minister McKenzie in November 2018, when the funding was expanded. I asked questions just last Friday of former Minister McKenzie about the relationship between her office and the Prime Minister's office and the involvement of the Prime Minister's office, and I got unbelievable answers from Minister McKenzie.

The evidence that we do have—that we need to have ratified; we need to have the corroborating evidence that we know that the government is withholding from us—is clear evidence that the Prime Minister actually did know about the use of the marginal and targeted electorates before the first grants went out the door, and that in the Prime Minister's meeting with Senator McKenzie about expanding funding for the program a key part of the pitch from Senator McKenzie was how many grants could go to marginal and targeted electorates. We also know that the Prime Minister was closely involved in the decision-making for the program. We know that there were hundreds of emails and copies of spreadsheets that went backwards and forwards with changes to which community clubs were going to be funded. And we know that the Prime Minister's office was coordinating across multiple programs, because, in fact, the rorts don't stop at the Community Sport Infrastructure Grant Program. Instead, there were projects that were being identified by Liberal Party campaign headquarters, and they were trying to work out which programs they could jam them into—whether it was the Community Sport Infrastructure Grant Program or whether it was the Female Facilities and Water Safety Stream Program. Where could they get the money from in order to fund the projects that they thought were going to be of political benefit for them? They were coordinating between multiple offices to make sure that their election wish lists were being funded by taxpayer funds.

But, despite this clear evidence that the Prime Minister knew about the use of marginal and targeted electorates, and despite the evidence we have that his office was intimately involved in decision-making, we have yet to see any accountability from the Prime Minister or his office. The Gaetjens report was basically a cover-up report, commissioned by a former Liberal chief of staff, and it didn't even cover the Prime Minister's role or the role of his office. Instead, they found a technicality to force former Minister McKenzie out as a scapegoat, without looking at the role that the Prime Minister played.

We've also learnt over the last year that an independent statutory agency, the Australian Sports Commission, is being forced to clear their answers to questions from this parliament through the office of the current sports minister. Given how wide this rort goes, it seems incredible that the Liberals are trying to undermine the independence of a statutory body as part of their cover-up. But, instead of facing up to their failures, instead of coming clean, instead of giving answers to all the questions that we've asked—instead of doing that—they've doubled down on their cover-up and they've made Senator McKenzie the scapegoat for their failures.

The fact that they have made Senator McKenzie suffer for a rort that was overseen by the Prime Minister's office actually goes to the sexism that is inherent in the Liberal Party, and it shows how desperate they are to avoid linking the whole sports rorts affair to the Prime Minister. Senator McKenzie is a hardworking and passionate politician. She and I disagree on a lot of things, particularly about what we should do about Australia's forests, but I think it's fundamentally unfair to her that the Prime Minister has made her take the fall for a program that has his fingerprints all over it. We have so many other scandals that this government has been embroiled in during this term of office.

We had Minister Dutton embroiled in getting visas for au pairs; more recently, we've seen Minister Dutton embroiled in his own grants program rort. We had Minister Tudge delay the release of an asylum seeker. A Federal Court judge found that Minister Tudge engaged in criminal conduct that was 'disgraceful'. Minister Robert was one of several ministers who oversaw the debacle that was robodebt. Minister Sukkar was caught up in really serious questions about branch stacking. Then, of course, we had Minister Taylor—who's been in more scandals than I can even remember and certainly than I have time to mention—providing doctored documents to journalists, and the grassland scandal, to name a few. But all of these ministers have survived. There is a common theme through this. If you're a man in the Liberal Party, you can expect to experience a major scandal, and the Prime Minister will cover for you. But, if you're a woman who can be made to take the fall for the Prime Minister, he'll force you to resign and pretend it was over the membership of a shooting club.

Senator McKenzie's got my sympathy. She and I disagree on a lot of things, but I think she's had a pretty rough go from the Prime Minister, and she deserves better from him than to be made the scapegoat for a program that has got his fingerprints all over it. Again, we don't have all the information; the information is being withheld from this Senate. But it's particularly concerning that the evidence suggests that it might have been the Prime Minister's office that asked McKenzie's office to get the electorate data and analyse it. We don't have the full email from the documents, but it's entirely possible, given the discomfort from McKenzie's staff, that there was pressure on them from the Prime Minister's office to source the electorate data that underpinned the whole sports rorts scandal and apply their marginal seats strategy. If so, it's especially tragic that former Minister McKenzie has been made to take the fall for a rort that was forced onto her by the Prime Minister.

I look forward to getting an answer to my question today. But there are some other answers that we require as well. There are steps that the Prime Minister must take to make this right with Australians. There's a long list of documents that need to be provided to this Senate and to the Australian public, which include the full and unredacted Gaetjens report, the legal advice as to whether former Minister McKenzie actually had the authority to be the decision-maker about this sports rorts program, the talking points prepared by Minister McKenzie's office ahead of her meeting with the Prime Minister, and the multiple letters between Minister McKenzie and the Prime Minister in relation to this program.

This is the transparency that we need. We need answers to all of these things and to unanswered questions on notice. More importantly, the Prime Minister should apologise to the Australian people and specifically to the sports clubs that missed out. We expect more from our leaders, and the Australian people deserve more. To add to that apology, the government should immediately fund those clubs that missed out, that put in their hundreds of hours and tens of thousands of dollars in preparing their applications. They are clubs that should be funded, but they have been rorted.

We've got the level playing field bill before the Senate, which could be debated today, and the government should support it. More importantly, so that the cover-up, the lack of transparency and the rorting don't continue, what we need to have in this place and what we need to have support for from all sides of parliament is a federal independent commission against corruption, with teeth. Again, because of the work of the Greens, a Greens bill passed this Senate. It's ready to be voted on today in the other place. The Liberals could make a real difference to transparency; they could stop hiding behind unanswered questions and unreleased documents and make a real difference to accountability. We urge them to support our bill, or a bill that's equally as strong, for a federal ICAC with teeth. When you're talking about an unanswered question on notice, it's easy to forget that the whole issue of the lack of transparency and the lack of accountability has consequences; it matters. It has impacts on everyday Australians. That's why I am keeping on about this a year later.

In the case of sports rorts, what this corrupted grants process resulted in was that organisations who should have received funding missed out, while other projects were funded not on their merits but because the government thought it would help their chances of winning those targeted or marginal electorates if they were able to fund those organisations and then those organisations were able to crow about the government doing so.

I call on the government to come clean and stop covering up, to support ordinary Australians and to support the clubs that missed out, because the people of Australia deserve better. The people of Australia deserve better than the scapegoating of the women around you, Prime Minister, and your refusal to take responsibility. We ask the Prime Minister to answer the outstanding questions, apologise and do the right thing.

3:35 pm

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

I indicate the support of the opposition for the objectives of Senator Rice in this regard. We've worked very closely with the Greens on the so-called sports rorts grants scheme. I'd like to reiterate what Senator Rice summarised very accurately. This was an example of a government who started out by saying: 'We need to spend all of this money in sports. We need to have a set of criteria that sporting clubs around this country can look at and they can make an assessment about whether they meet the criteria. If they do, then they can put in an application.' The assumption always was, by every sporting club that I have had the pleasure to have discussed this issue with, that this system was on the level, that, if you put in an application, it would be judged on its merits and, if the merits justified it, then you would get a grant in accordance with what you were seeking. That was the whole assumption of this program.

The government went to the election, and the program was very well taken up, because this government had spent very little on infrastructure in community sporting places. But the assumption was, if you had a good application, it would be assessed fairly by the relevant independent public servants, and you would then be awarded a grant based on merit. That's what happened to start with. Sport Australia assessed these programs against a set of criteria. Often the criteria related to female sporting requirements, because there has been a boom—whether you're talking about Aussie Rules, football, cricket, rugby league or rugby union—in female sport participation in this country, and sporting clubs just hadn't managed to catch up. The government latched onto this. The government saw that there was a problem and led people to believe that, if they put in a genuine application, that application would be judged on its merits.

But, of course, that isn't what happened. The exact opposite of that is what happened. The government and the minister at the time took these applications, completely ignored the categories and the classifications that Sport Australia had attributed to these and replaced them, in the lead-up to the election, with grants that went to the most vulnerable government seats or seats that the government was trying to win off either Labor or an Independent. So they were specifically targeted. This was pork-barrelling on an industrial scale. We'd never, ever seen this sort of pork-barrelling in this country. A whole lot of things happened about 12 months ago as a result of this.

Of course, the minister at the time, Senator McKenzie, who was, I'd say, the fall guy—I suppose she was 'the fall woman'—lost her spot in the ministry, not for the industrial-scale pork-barrelling, you might remember, Madam Deputy President, but for a minor technicality, which was that she had not declared that she was a member of a club to which she'd given a grant. Of all the breaches of integrity that took place during that time, that was the smallest, and she took the fall.

Senator McKenzie had an opportunity last week to set the record straight. She had the opportunity to explain to the Australian people exactly what happened in the interactions between her office and the Prime Minister's office. Senator McKenzie had the opportunity to make it clear, I think, that the Prime Minister's office was up to its neck in the allocation of the grants under this program. I know you're surprised, Madam Deputy President, and I know it comes as a shock that this Prime Minister could be engaged in that sort of activity, but there is no other conclusion that you can reach. If Senator McKenzie, and I believe her, says, 'I didn't rort the system. It wasn't me who was making all these decisions in respect of grants,' then who was it? All the emails are gradually dribbling out, bit by bit, and, if the government responds appropriately to Senator Rice's application for the answer to that question on notice, we'll get some more information—because we're not going to give up on this. The Australian people deserve to know what went on and what went wrong.

We've now seen it in a whole lot of other grant programs. It's starting to look systemic. Again, Madam Deputy President, I know you'll be shocked that this government would engage in that sort of systemic rorting of grant programs in this country, but we're now seeing it in a whole lot of other programs. But it all started with the so-called sports rorts affair, and we need to get to the bottom of it. The government has to come clean. In particular, the Prime Minister's office has to come clean and say what their role was in this process. We've heard all about the colour coding. Minister McKenzie says there were a whole lot of colour-coding documents, and I believe it's true. The head of the ANAO, Mr Brian Boyd, has done a terrific job, I might add—forensic in a way you don't often see. He has tracked down, bit by bit, inch by inch, all of the industrial-scale pork-barrelling by this government that went on. But we haven't got to the bottom of it yet. But we will. We will. We're not giving up.

The government thinks that the pandemic will overshadow all of these things, but, sooner or later, the pandemic will pass, Senator Abetz. You know that. I can see you smiling because you know what I'm saying is exactly right. The pandemic will pass, and the Australian people will come back to demanding what is their right, and their right in these circumstances is to know what went on—how it is that the Prime Minister of this country was able to rort this program in such a way that the funding which should have gone to clubs that genuinely deserved to be rewarded because of the projects that they were putting forward, because of the efforts of all of their volunteers, didn't go to them. Don't forget, Madam Deputy President, that most of the people who worked in these clubs whose projects scored highly were volunteers who'd spent their nights and weekends preparing their applications for these generous grants—hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayers' money—to make sure that they put the best possible foot forward. Imagine how cheated they felt after they discovered that they had scored highly, 90 or 95—good projects.

I can give you an example of one project in my home state of South Australia: the South Adelaide Football Club. It is a fine club, one of the early SANFL clubs in South Australia and an early adopter of female sports participation in South Australia. You'll know, Deputy President, how successful the Adelaide Crows football team have been at the national level, in the AFL. They won two of their first three premierships. Of course, the South Adelaide Football Club was a feeder into the Adelaide Crows football team. They've had a long history of being a terrific SANFL club. I remember I went to the 1964 grand final, which was the last time they won a grand final. There was a very big crowd. There were 74,000 people there. They say a big crowd at Adelaide Oval, Senator Ayres, is 54, but in 1964 there were 74,000 people at that match. Neil Kerley had switched from West Adelaide to South Adelaide and took them from bottom to top.

Now, this is a football team in Adelaide with a great history. It was an early adopter of women's AFL in South Australia. They put in an application. Listen to this, Deputy President: they had fewer female toilets than they'd had grand finals in their women's football. I'll say that again, Senator Ayres, because it takes a bit of listening to. They had fewer female toilets than they had premierships. Can you believe it? So they put in an application, expecting—

Photo of Anne RustonAnne Ruston (SA, Liberal Party, Minister for Families and Social Services) Share this | | Hansard source

The Adelaide Crows?

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

No, no; I'm talking about South Adelaide here. They're a feeder side to the Adelaide Crows, as you should know, Senator Ruston.

Senator Ruston interjecting

Well, I can't disagree with that, of course, my uncle having played for West Adelaide in the 1945 team. I was there in '83.

An honourable senator: You were a child.

Alas, I wasn't, Senator. But—

Senator Abetz interjecting

No, I'm fully here, Senator Abetz, and you know you are embarrassed to be part of a government that would rort the system.

But let's get back to South Adelaide—more premierships than they had female toilets. How was their application assessed? Well of course it was assessed very highly because it met all of the criteria that the government said they were interested in following through on. But what happened? No, they didn't get the grant. They were on the original grant tick—they'd ticked all the boxes. They'd been examined by Sport Australia. They should have got—should have got!—the money that they needed to improve female sporting facilities in the south of Adelaide. And they missed out, replaced by a grant in another seat which the government was trying to win.

As I say, we will get to the bottom of this. We've got a sports rorts committee. Senator Rice is obviously on it. We've got Senator Chisholm and Senator Nita Green. Bit by bit, moment by moment, they'll get to the bottom of what happened here, because what we know is that industrial-scale rorting took place—

An honourable senator: Shame!

It is a shame. It's so disappointing to all those volunteers and all those female participants who thought they were entering an honest, aboveboard scheme to allocate much-needed sporting funds. Finally they discovered, of course, that that wasn't what happened.

The Prime Minister might think that the pandemic will smother all of the interest in this topic for Australians. Well, he's wrong. Australians still want to know what happened here. The Labor Party, with the Greens, will continue to pursue this issue and, bit by bit, we'll extract the truth. We've gone a long way—we've found out a whole lot of information that we didn't know at the start of this process—and we will get to the bottom of it. We will find out exactly what the Prime Minister and his office did to override all of these recommendations from Sport Australia. I'm not saying that these other clubs didn't deserve applications, but there was a priority listing and that is what we should have followed through on. That's what the government should have followed through on. Had Labor been elected, of course, that's exactly what we would have done—we would have followed the advice of Sport Australia to give the money to those clubs that most deserved it. The great disappointment and the great sadness of Australian sporting communities is that that didn't happen.

3:50 pm

Photo of Eric AbetzEric Abetz (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

On the same matter, the Australian Labor Party and the Australian Greens, in their normal coalition tactic, are seeking to pick meat off a bone that has no meat on it. The simple facts are very clear, but what is most disappointing is that the Australian Greens and the Labor Party are going through the charade of a committee having already determined the matter. Senator Rice, the deputy chair, in particular, has made extremely scathing, judgemental comments indicating she has prejudged the matter and there is no need for her to hear any more evidence, but she continues with this charade to try to score some political points. I must say, I would have expected better from Senator Farrell, but every now and then you've got to do what your party asks you to do and so I accept that Senator Farrell is doing his party's bidding on this occasion.

Government Senator:

A government senator interjecting

Photo of Eric AbetzEric Abetz (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

But, in relation to these grants, let's be absolutely clear: the Auditor-General in no way has ever used the term that the senator has just interjected on to the record. The Auditor-General has never used that term, so why is it that the Greens and Labor would seek to import words into the Auditor-General's mouth which do not exist? The Auditor-General did not say that which Labor and Greens are now asserting. Let's be very clear: many a club were asked whether they had read the guidelines and they said they had.

This is where the Greens and Labor always come unstuck. You know what it is? The facts; the detail. Sure, the hyperbole they spin like you would not be believed, but, when it comes to the detail and the facts, that is where they are found wanting. Allow me to quote for the record what the guidelines actually tell us:

The Minister for Sport will provide final approval. In addition to the application and supporting material, other factors may be considered when deciding which projects to fund.

Senator Ayres interjecting

Senator Ayres foolishly interjects, because he knows—and this is another one of these facts that the Labor Party never want the public to hear—that, but for the minister's involvement, the Labor Party electorates would have received substantially less funding. So, Senator McKenzie, as minister, involving herself in the process ensured Labor seats got more funding. Talk about an ungrateful bunch! The minister involves herself to assist Labor electorates and all they can do is come in here and complain and say, 'This is a rort.' But the amazing thing is that none of the Labor people or, indeed, for that matter, mouthy Greens went around the electorate during the election campaign saying, 'Elect us and we will not fund this particular project.' They were photographed time after time, day after day, with all the various projects, all of which had been announced publicly by the minister, all on the public record, and what did they do? They lined up for the photo opportunities. After that, they're now criticising all the photo opportunities for which they themselves turned up. Talk about duplicitous! Talk about two-faced! It must be embarrassing for Senator Ayres and his colleagues to look themselves in the mirror of an evening after they've given a speech such as the one Senator Farrell has sought to deliver and Senator Rice has delivered. Let me also indicate from the Auditor-General's report something which Labor always find very difficult, and that is—

A government senator: Oh, I know what this is.

Yes, it's page 9, paragraph 16. When I happened to ask about this during a committee hearing, certain people thought it was funny, given the reaction that I had. But allow me to quote it for the record so that people can make up their own minds. What did the Auditor-General's report say? It said:

Ineligible applications were identified and no applications assessed as ineligible were awarded grant funding.

There's an inconvenient fact. Senator Rice is now busily looking at some documents and Senator Farrell is drinking water, because they can no longer interject on these facts.

These are the facts that need to come out in relation to this matter. If Sport Australia's recommendations were accepted, 30 electorates would not have received any funding whatsoever. Thirty electorates out of 150—that's about one-fifth, on my maths. Twenty per cent of the Australian people would have missed out completely in relation to this excellent scheme.

The minister involved herself to ensure that the grants were equitably distributed—geographically and politically. Indeed, if the so-called scoring methodology of Sport Australia were adopted, I think about two-thirds of the funding would have gone to coalition seats. Can you imagine the outcry: 'The fix was in from the start; how outrageous that the coalition seats got all the money.' But when the minister seeks to make it more equitable, then that becomes a rort.

For example, just the other day, we heard from a witness—I think it was the Belconnen Tennis Club—complaining bitterly that they had missed out, albeit that there were real issues about Tennis Australia having a conflict of interest and being provided some information beforehand about this scheme. That's addressed in the auditor's report. But the claim was made that, somehow, they missed out on funding because they were in a Labor electorate. Have a look at the funding for the ACT. There were 15 grants, if I recall correctly, into the ACT. So if the motivation was for the minister—

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (WA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Abetz, please resume your seat. Senator Farrell?

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

There is a breach of protocol by Senator Abetz. He's got his foot on the seat. That is not appropriate conduct. Could you please call him to order in that respect?

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (WA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source


Photo of Anne RustonAnne Ruston (SA, Liberal Party, Minister for Families and Social Services) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Farrell, I was just wondering what the basis of your point of order was.

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (WA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

It's a protocol question, but it's entirely up to Senator Abetz. It's probably on the camera, Senator Abetz. It's up to you how you stand, I think. I don't think there's a 'standing order'.

Photo of Eric AbetzEric Abetz (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

You have to ask the question: why would somebody who seeks to be the deputy leader of the Labor Party in the Senate raise such a pathetic point of order? Is this the best the Labor Party have to offer the Australian people? It seems that it is.

Coming back to the Belconnen Tennis Club—you won't distract me from that one, Senator Farrell. There was the claim being made that, somehow, they may have missed out because this was deep, dark Labor territory. But then, when asked: can you explain about the other 15 grants or so made in the ACT—unable to explain. What is more, the ACT got 1.5 per cent of the funding from this grants scheme. The ACT represents 1.6 per cent of the Australian people. Talk about bang-on equitable in relation to population and distribution of funding! But no, we've got this allegation that, somehow, funding was denied to the ACT because the three seats vote Labor. The hyperbole from Labor is always pretty good, I've got to say, but it always lacks the fact and the detail.

Can I indicate—and it's not, I think, any secret here—that Senator McKenzie, when she appeared before the committee some six days ago, performed exceptionally well, and that Labor, despite their pathetic and desperate attempts, were, to use a sporting analogy, unable to lay a glove on her. They missed! Do you know why? It's because there was no substance to the allegations that were being sought to be made against the former minister. She had performed exceptionally well. She had involved herself to ensure that there was an equitable and appropriate distribution.

Of course, the other thing that this committee has not done is call forward those organisations who were successful—those who, but for the minister's involvement, would not have been successful. Oh, I wonder why we wouldn't have called them as witnesses! It might have destroyed the pathetic narrative of Labor and the Greens in this committee. This committee has now become quite a debacle of a show. The quicker it wraps up, the better. The determinations were made before the first witness was ever called. I'm sure that, in the minds of Labor and Greens senators on the committee, the report was already finalised. And, mark my words, despite the Auditor-General never having used derogatory terms like 'rort' et cetera, their report will be peppered with those sorts of words, denying all the facts. They won't be talking about the percentages and the effective administration by the minister to ensure equity, or the fact that more clubs got money; no, they'll be banging on about hyperbole and unfairness.

They'll also ignore the fact that Sport Australia themselves said that the numerical rating of the club's project alone would not have been the sole determinant for them and that they would have taken other matters into account as well. What is also unfortunate for the Labor Party is that, even in this numerical ranking, when two individuals in Sport Australia separately, independently, analysed the same project—and this is how subjective the business is—do you know what the variation was? The variation was up to 30 points! So somebody may have marked a project at 70 per cent, while somebody else, looking at exactly the same paperwork and exactly the same project, would have marked it at 40 per cent. The chances are that, for those of us who had to do exams from time to time, we would have thought that the marking of an exam paper, or any assessment, that had a variation of some 30 per cent would not exactly have been the most robust manner in which to undertake an assessment. The reliance on the figure of 74 being a cut-off point is ridiculous. Even Sport Australia rejects that assertion.

So you've got to ask the question: other than sheer rank politics, what is it that motivates Labor and the Greens? They are forcefully trying to put words into the Auditor-General's mouth, which the Auditor-General won't accept. They have sought to assert that Sport Australia would have done something different. Sport Australia has acknowledged that that is not the case. Sure, they've brought before the committee disappointed organisations that missed out. I understand that. Wouldn't it have been good if we could have funded each and every organisation? But, surprisingly, Labor and the Greens have seen no need to call before us organisations that actually did succeed in getting the funding.

In the few moments left, I want to mention the lack of self-awareness by some local government organisations that came before us, who indicated that they were at a loss to understand how their project missed out. When they were simply asked, 'Do you have council officers that make recommendations to council which the elected council then takes it upon itself to reject?' the mayors and CEOs of the councils all had to agree and accept that, yes, that occurs from time to time. And then when asked, 'What's the difference at the federal level if officers make a certain recommendation and the elected official makes a determination otherwise?' they were at a loss to explain. The way our system works is very simple. We have advisers, but the elected officials are the deciders, and that's the important task here to grasp, something which I'm sure the intellectual acuity of those opposite allows them to understand but they conveniently reject so that they can keep peddling this quite nasty mantra against the former minister in a vain attempt to besmirch the government. This grants program has delivered $100 million to over 680 organisations around the country, and sport in Australia is better off for it and because of Senator McKenzie's involvement in the program.

Question agreed to.