Questions Without Notice – Community Sport Infrastructure Grant Program10 February 2020
I take the opportunity to acknowledge Senator Farrell’s kind words there in relation to the Adelaide Crows, which of course is one subject that we can agree on: his passion for that club is shared by me. One thing we can’t agree on, however, is the use of this term ‘sports rorts’. Those across the chamber consistently use this term like it has some sort of currency or like it’s the repeat of a bad Hollywood sequel. On this side of the chamber, we know that that is nothing but fabrication. The government has acknowledged the recommendations of the ANAO performance audit into the Community Sport Infrastructure Grant Program, and is taking action with Sport Australia to address the findings. Where it is the case that deficiencies have been identified across the board in transparency and in documentation, then, quite simply, they will be remedied.
It is trite to suggest that this is something that the government should hang its head about. It’s quite the opposite. Between 2018 and 2019 the federal government delivered 684 projects, investing in the order of $100 million into the Community Sport Infrastructure Grant Program. We’ve seen firsthand the positive impacts that this program had delivered for many grassroots sporting organisations and local communities. Indeed, Senator Farrell’s noted a few of them. The cause of women’s sport in South Australia has, of course, been, in my home state—and your home state, Mr Acting Deputy President Griff—a very, very fine win for the community.
Once again, to take issue with this concept of ‘sports rorts’, as it’s been characterised, the advice of the Attorney-General, in consultation with the Australian Government Solicitor, was that he didn’t agree with the Auditor-General’s specific comments regarding ministerial authority. Publically released guidelines clearly state that the minister was the final decision-maker and could take into account other issues. It’s more than reasonable in circumstances that the minister is the final decision-maker and has some discretion, because it is clear that that is the role of the minister. The minister’s job is to make decisions, and that is what he or she will do in the circumstances. That’s why this government, ultimately, is acting on recommendation 4 from the ANAO, so that where ministers have discretion to make decisions, and where they move away for whatever reason from what those recommendations might be, there is a process of accountability and transparency.
We should also take this opportunity to make the point that one only has to cast one’s mind back a relatively short amount of time—
Opposition senators interjecting—
I hear the calls of ‘sports rorts’ and that sort of thing from the other side of the chamber, but of course the ANAO made it very clear that the way the program was conducted delivered on its intent. That is the critical factor to be brought into account here. All the projects that the government backed were eligible. They were eligible for support, unlike, for example, with Labor’s Catherine King, whom the Auditor-General found was spending taxpayer money on projects against the recommendations of experts. Or let’s say Ros Kelly, who funded ineligible projects. So we are talking about quite separate and distinct concepts here, and, as the Prime Minister has said, the secretary found that the minister actually did not take into account political factors as a primary consideration when making her decisions. So, these are crucial distinctions. They are not merely trivial matters; they are quite significant. We are dealing with decisions that have been made which have had positive impacts in the community. We are now seeing these funding arrangements rolled out such that there are now change rooms for community clubs and so forth. In fact, it’s true to say that electorates held by our friends across the chamber— the Australian Labor Party—represented as many as 35 per cent of approved projects and 34 per cent of approved funding. Of course, these electorates would have been less successful had Sport Australia’s assessment team’s recommendations been maintained. There are many Labor frontbenchers who have welcomed these, none more significant than the opposition leader, Anthony Albanese, who actually went so far as to thank Minister McKenzie for her support for the Dawn Fraser pool—quite a suggestion.