Community Sport Infrastructure Grant Program - Sports Rorts

February 06, 2020

That the Senate take note of the answers given by the Minister for Finance (Senator Cormann), the Minister for Youth and Sport (Senator Colbeck) to the questions without notice asked by Opposition senators today relating to the Community Sport Infrastructure Program.

What an extraordinary performance we saw from the Leader of the Government in the Senate, Senator Cormann, and from Minister Colbeck in the chamber today. It's obvious that they have learnt none of the lessons from the last couple of months and have understood none of the concerns of the Australian people, when you listen to the defence by Senator Cormann. There he was saying that Senator McKenzie did nothing wrong in terms of her administration of the program, but that's clearly not the view of the Australian people. And we saw the performance of Senator Colbeck here today as well. You've got to remember that this is the minister responsible for cleaning up this mess. Anyone watching his performance today would be scratching their head at the thought that this is the person who is supposed to be responsible for cleaning this up. Clearly, he was out of his depth in answering the questions that were put to him today about when he first became aware of this but also about whether he received any legal advice. He clearly dodged the question from Senator Wong that went to the heart of that.

The defence the government are trying to run is obvious. They're offering platitudes to Senator McKenzie, saying, 'You'll be back; it was only a technicality.' But we know what really went on here. The most damning statistics that I've seen in relation to this sports rort actually go to the three rounds of funding—December 2018, February 2019 and April 2019. In the December 2018 round, round 1, 41 per cent of the approved projects were not on the list endorsed by Sport Australia. That's 41 per cent in December 2018. In February 2019, round 2, 70 per cent of the approved projects were not on the list of applications that Sport Australia recommended. As you can see, as they were getting closer to the election and becoming more and more desperate, the political interference in the projects that were approved through this process went off the charts and the percentages became higher. Then in the last round, just a month before the election in April 2019, the amount of approved projects not recommended by Sport Australia went up to 73 per cent. That just goes to show you how deliberate this was, how much it was focused on marginal seats and how much it was designed to give the government the best possible chance of winning the election.

For them to try and sit in here and say, 'Senator McKenzie only had to resign because of a technicality'—the Australian people deserve so much better than that, and they are absolutely concerned about the way that this fund was administered. I'd say to the government: put your feet in the shoes of those parents, those volunteers, those people who give up their time and put in hard work to put forward these proposals, because they're the ones who've been dudded by this. Those are the Australians that I identify with. I've got young kids. They're getting involved in sport. I see how much grassroots community sport is led by volunteers. They're the ones who are the lifeblood of these communities, and these are the people that this government has dudded through its corrupt sports rorts program. This is something that the Labor opposition will absolutely hold them to account on. Senator McKenzie may have become the scapegoat, but the government will be held to account on this. They haven't released what was in the Gaetjens report. That obviously goes to some of the substance regarding Senator McKenzie. But they haven't gone anywhere near justifying their decision-making.

I think it's interesting that, as I mentioned in the question that I put, Minister Chester is showing a bit of contrition about the way this scheme operated. We saw a similar quote from Minister Littleproud yesterday as well. I think those members in rural and regional Australia understand some of these issues better than they do here in the Senate. They understand that communities being dudded has a significant impact in that part of the world. That shows you that there is a division within the government over how this has been handled. It's really important that we continue to put a focus on this and highlight these divisions.

I want to finish on the defence that the Prime Minister has often used—that this was all about providing facilities so that girls didn't have to get changed out the back. That has been blown out of the water by the fact that there were 12 applications for girls' change rooms that were rejected. So he can absolutely give that up now. It shows that is a nonsense defence from the Prime Minister. This was a deliberate program. They were absolutely determined to get the best political outcomes out of this. The fact that the percentage of decisions disregarding Sport Australia increased as they got closer to the election shows you that they were in this up to their necks.