Clubs given too much latitude with community contributions, audit finds

Ian Bushnell 27 April 2018

The pokies funded Community Contributions Scheme lacks clarity and guidance from regulators.

The ACT Government needs to sharpen its definition of ‘community’ so the merits of clubs’ poker machine generated community contributions can be assessed accurately, according to a new audit report.

ACT Auditor-General Dr Maxine Cooper’s report into clubs’ community contributions has called for the Government to clearly state what objectives it is seeking from community contributions and specify the nature and type of expenditure that may be claimed.

“While it is apparent that benefits are being provided to the community through clubs’ community contributions the lack of clarity with respect to objectives, the broad nature and type of expenditure that may be claimed as a contribution and the fact that the term community is undefined and therefore open to interpretation means that the benefits of community contributions cannot be evaluated,” she said.

Dr Cooper found that a lack of guidance from Access Canberra meant there was significant discretion about whether a contribution is allowable or not.

Despite the fuzzy definition and lack of guidance, Ms Cooper found there were questions regarding the value and benefit of some claims.

These included expenditure associated with the operation of professional and semi-professional sporting teams (including salaries and wages of coaching and ancillary staff, airline lounge memberships for team members and team transport and consumables); and the maintenance and upkeep of sporting infrastructure, especially where there is a lack of information on the community’s access to this infrastructure.

Insufficient information in clubs’ annual returns identifying and documenting the purpose and beneficiary of community contributions cast doubt on their eligibility and appropriateness.

A review of the annual returns for 10 clubs over a three-year period (2013/14 to 2015/16) found that for 7.2 percent of all contributions reported neither the recorded purpose nor recipient of the community contribution was clear.

These contributions had a value of $1.2 million from a total of $5.7 million in community contributions made by those 10 clubs.

Dr Cooper made six recommendations including greater clarity around the community contributions scheme’s objectives, more guidance from the ACT Gambling and Racing Commission, and that Access Canberra updates how it regulates the scheme and that it request more information from clubs before approving expenditures, and that it demand better record keeping and documentation from clubs.

The ACT Gambling and Racing Commission said the findings would provide greater certainty for ACT clubs and the Canberra community on the community benefits intended to be derived from gaming activity in the Territory, and allow Access Canberra to more effectively support the Commission, and the clubs industry to meet its obligations.

Shadow Minister for Gaming and Racing Mark Parton said the report showed that the clubs had made community contributions of $62 million over the past five years.

“If there is a shortcoming in the scheme, it is at the Government’s end. The Auditor-General has found that there is a lack of supporting documentation and oversight by Government agencies,” he said.

“The Auditor-General has also noted that more guidance is required as to what constitutes a community contribution, and what the objectives are of such contributions.”

The report can be found here.

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