The Labor MP Graham Perrett has complained about the politicisation of the Coalition’s controversial $100m community sport infrastructure grant program after he was excluded from the announcement of an area grant he’d lobbied for while his Liberal opponent was invited for a photograph opportunity.
The member for Moreton told Guardian Australia he had helped local soccer club the Sunnybank Saints win $135,000 for a clubhouse upgrade by writing a letter of support, only to get the appliance was successful when the club was contacted for a photograph opportunity together with his opponent, the councillor Angela Owen.
Perrett’s is simply one complaint from Labor MPs about the $100m program overseen by the then sports minister Bridget McKenzie that’s the topic of a scathing audit office report which found funding decisions were skewed in favour of marginal and target seats.The audit was sparked by an identical incident when Labor questioned how the Liberal candidate for Mayo, Georgina Downer, was ready to present an enormous taxpayer-funded $127,373 cheque to the Yankalilla Bowling Club in February 2019.
Perrett said the Sunnybank Saints had a “strong women’s program” and were worthy recipients but he was concerned by “the politicisation … of normal processes” – including excluding him from the announcement.The Labor MP Lisa Chesters said she was “disappointed but not surprised” that after receiving $527,000 within the first two rounds of the program, her seat of Bendigo was given nothing within the final round before the election.
“This minister [Bridget McKenzie] and therefore the government have form,” Chesters told Guardian Australia.
Projects to miss call at her seat included pitches from the Bendigo club , Castlemaine Bowls Club, Woodend racket club and Garden Gully Hockey Pavilion, a project backed by the town of Greater Bendigo.
The audit office found that within the first round 41% of projects approved weren’t recommended by the game Australia board – rising to 70% within the second round and 73% within the final round of funding.
On Thursday, Labor’s shadow minister for sport, Don Farrell, accused the Coalition of “pork-barrelling on an industrial scale” and demanded Nationals deputy leader McKenzie’s resignation.
McKenzie defended her conduct by arguing all of the projects granted funding were eligible and “no rules were broken”. She claimed her intervention had actually increased the proportion of projects parturient electorates from 26% to 34%, suggesting this amounted to “reverse pork-barrelling”.Although the list of successful projects has been published, the govt has knocked back attempts by Labor to reveal unsuccessful applicants and therefore the projects that Sport Australia recommended for funding.
On Thursday, Sport Australia rebuffed queries by claiming that “for privacy reasons we’ll not be providing further detail on individual applications beyond what’s outlined within the [audit] report”.
It would not say, for instance , whether it recommended a grant of $125,000 tend to the Bradman Foundation, an organisation that lists the previous prime minister John Howard as its director and patron.
The money was awarded in round two of the program for upgrades to the heritage-listed Bradman Oval in Bowral.
The auditor general found that 70% of the grants awarded in round two weren’t endorsed by the game Australia board.
There is no suggestion Howard played any role in obtaining the grant, or that it had been awarded due to his involvement with the Bradman Foundation. The grant was also awarded within the very safe Labor electorate of Whitlam and was helped by lobbying from a Labor MP, Stephen Jones, who told local news at the time that it had been the results of “a great application from the Bradman Foundation and a touch of back door lobbying from me”.
The Bradman Foundation executive , Rina Hore, said the grant aligned with the program’s aims and guidelines and enjoyed the strong support of Wingecarribee council and Jones, the local MP.
“Our staff and volunteers worked very hard over a two-year period to secure funding for improving public spaces at Bradman Oval,” she told the Guardian. “Two major areas to be improved were shade protect everyday users, children groups and locals and visitors alike that visit the oval seven days every week , from dawn to dusk.”
Hore said Howard wasn’t involved within the application.
“Mr Howard wasn’t at any time involved within the grant application process, nor did we include his role or position within our application information,” she said.
Farrell said taxpayers “have a right to understand and that we shall determine who was approved by Sport Australia, why they didn’t get the cash and where the cash has gone to”.
Farrell said that unsuccessful applicants “still want to use for grant money within the future and, of course, they’re scared of retribution” if they speak out about politicisation of the program.
The Australian National Audit Office found the successful applications were “not people who had been assessed because the most meritorious in terms of the published program guidelines” which McKenzie’s office had instead run a “parallel” assessment process choose the way to distribute the funds.
The audit committee is already investigating the $220m regional jobs and investment packages program, during which ministers knocked back almost 30% of recommended projects and supported 17% of these not recommended by the department.
Labor MP Julian Hill, deputy chair of the joint committee of public accounts and audit, wants the committee to “urgently expand the present inquiry” to demand answers about the allocation of sports grants.“The regional jobs report was bad enough but I almost fell off my chair in reading the sports … report – it’s a shocker,” he said.
“Either the minister must explain herself properly by publishing the list of applications and explain which grants were approved on advice and which weren’t, or she should consider standing aside until a correct parliamentary inquiry is completed.”
Janet Rice, the Greens sports spokeswoman, said McKenzie should be “ashamed” of what seemed to be “a government rort designed to win elections”.
“To ignore the merit-based assessment of Sports Australia for nearly half the successful applicants, and instead plan to award grants supported political gain, may be a clear and unforgivable misuse of taxpayers’ money,” she said.
“We will pursue this in Senate estimates and can consider seeking the support of the Senate for an inquiry.”
The government has refused to release documents concerning its trouble-plagued $220m regional grants program, claiming release under freedom of data wouldn’t inform debate on a “matter of public importance”.