22 January 2020

See where Bridget McKenzie's sports grants went in the ACT

| Ian Bushnell
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Canberra Netball Association

Canberra Netball Association was a sports grant winner. Photo: Ben Southall Photography.

The ACT managed to win only 13 of the 684 sports grants awarded by the Federal Government program criticised by the Auditor-General, and which has the Labor Opposition calling for the head of Nationals Deputy Leader and former Sports Minister Bridget McKenzie.

The Auditor-General’s report on the Community Sport Infrastructure program found that it was biased towards marginal electorates held by the Coalition and those it had targeted as winnable, with the Minister’s office running a parallel assessment process that over-ruled original decisions by Sport Australia.

It found the awarding of grants was not informed by an appropriate assessment process and sound advice, and that successful applications were not necessarily those with the most merit.

The entire program was worth $100 million, with only $1.5 million going to the ACT.

While the ACT, with its solid Labor vote, is hardly considered marginal, several of the grants were announced by Liberal Senator Zed Seselja during the election campaign in which he was the target of strong, if overly optimistic, challenges from the Greens and an independent.

The biggest grant went to the Canberra Netball Association in Lyneham, which received $454,000 in Round 2 to upgrade ageing facilities, including change rooms and toilets. Arawang Netball Association received $20,000 in Round 2.

But Woden Valley Gymnastics was not far behind, winning two separate grants of $200,000 each in Round 1 and Round 3 to extend its gymnasium at the former Holder High School site which it leases from the ACT Government. The sport, in general, was the big winner with South Canberra Gymnastics Club in Wanniassa being awarded $140,000.

As in other electorates, new women’s sport was a major beneficiary with the Brumbies winning $199,000 to install women’s changing and bathroom facilities at their training ground at the University of Canberra.

The University of Canberra Union received $215,000 so five ‘3 on 3’ basketball courts could be installed at the Bruce campus.

The Molonglo Juggernauts Australian Rules Football Club, of which Senator Seselja was the 2014 club patron, won $50,000 to upgrade its Stirling Oval home, including an electronic scoreboard, undercover seating, and bathroom facilities with access for people with a disability.

Pegasus Riding for the Disabled at Holt received $48,000 to upgrade the safety and accessibility of its facilities.

Canberra BMX Club at Melba won $23,000, Reid and Southlands Tennis Clubs each received $10,500 and the Canberra Dragon Boat Association was awarded $2,840.

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The Sports Minister is unable to appropriately explain the distribution of federal sporting grants to marginal electorates held by the governing party. The Auditor-General complained about the manner in which the grants have been administered. Nevertheless the Prime Minister has unequivocally supported the minister responsible for administering the grants.
Seems like standard ministerial practice these days …
… except the above narrative describes events in 1993/94 when then Sports Minister, Ros Kelly, with the ongoing support of then Prime Minister, Paul Keating, refused to resign for perceived bias in the handling of sports grants. The Australian Democrats (who held the balance of power in the Senate) effectively forced Ms Kelly to give evidence to a House of Representatives committee. The 12-person Labor dominated committee ultimately found that her actions were “not illegal” but her administration was “deficient”. This was enough for the Liberals, led by Hewson and Costello, to initiate a campaign to demand Kelly’s resignation from the ministry. She eventually did so and several months later resigned from politics.
The similarities between Kelly’s situation and the imbroglio surrounding Senator McKenzie are manifest. However, it would be surprising for Phil Gaetjens, Scott Morrison’s former Chief of Staff and now Secretary of the Prime Minister’s department, who is examining whether McKenzie has breached the ministerial code, to return an adverse verdict.
So then, it remains to be seen how the independents in the Senate will react. Will Pauline Hanson and Jaqui Lambie enter into a secret deal with the government to protect McKenzie in the Senate or will they decide enough is enough and endeavour to enforce rhe concept of ministerial accountability?
One thing is for sure – this won’t die for lack of oxygen, with Parliament due to resume in a fortnight.

Capital Retro8:17 am 25 Jan 20

“Seems like standard ministerial practice these days …”

Yes, unlike the “unprecedented” bushfires.

I’m surrprised you haven’t joined the parade of Libs and supporters to have denied that there is an issue – you seem to be in denial about everything else.

@CapitalRetro … is that the best you have to offer?

rationalobserver9:23 am 24 Jan 20

So what if the departments recommendations were not fully accepted? The job of the department is to help inform the decision. The job of the minister is to decide.
Who is the master here, and who is the slave?

The reason there are guidelines for the allocation of grants is to ensure that the money is allocated fairly and not on ministerial whim. It’s not a matter of master and slave, the minister does not have the absolute right to act without accountability. Nothing whatsoever rational about your observation here.

While it is true that the Department makes recommendations that the Minister may or may not accept, if she doesn’t accept them, she is supposed to record the justification of her decision. I assume she couldn’t show any justification for the way the grants were distributed (because who would record that they were pork barrelling) and this has got her into hot water.

Capital Retro11:36 am 23 Jan 20

Population of ACT 400,000 as a percentage of Australia 24,000,000 is 1.67%
Grants to the ACT 13 out of 684 nationally is 1.90%

Seems more than fair to me.

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