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Marginal electorates benefit under ‘dodgy’ Federal Government sport grant scheme

Marginal electorates benefit under ‘dodgy’ Federal Government sport grant scheme
November 11, 2019

Key marginal electorates received twice as much funding as the average seat under the Federal Government's pre-election Community Sport Infrastructure grant program.

The program, which came to prominence after a novelty cheque was presented by Liberal candidate Georgina Downer - rather than the local MP - is currently being investigated by the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO).

While the Federal Government has declined to release an electorate breakdown of grants, but an analysis by the ABC of hundreds of announcements available online and on social media - representing more than $90 million of the total $100 million funding - shows a bias of towards marginal seats.

Senator Bridget McKenzie, the former Federal Sport Minister, had previously advised "every single project that received funding was assessed under the guidelines, which were all publicly available, as eligible for funding (but) the reality was, we were significantly oversubscribed.”

While the guidelines for the program stated eligible applications would be assessed against three criteria, a separate section noted the Minister "will provide final approval" and "in addition to the application and supporting material, other factors may be considered when deciding which projects to fund".

Evidence to Senate estimates revealed Senator McKenzie rejected 618 applications recommended for funding by Sport Australia.

When asked to rule out bias towards marginal seats, Senator McKenzie said "what I'm telling you is the case - every single project that was funded under the program was eligible under the guidelines, it's all publicly available."

Federal Labor's sport spokesperson, Senator Don Farrell, has previously described the scheme as "dodgy", adding in the past week that it now appears even “dodgier".

Senator Farrell advised “the fact that (Senator McKenzie) hand-picked and personally approved taxpayer funds for projects not recommended by Sport Australia is very concerning.

"Communities and local sports clubs across Australia that were recommended for funding but missed out on Senator McKenzie's whim have a right to know how many millions of taxpayers' dollars did Senator McKenzie give away against the advice of Sport Australia."

Projects in the Queensland seat of Dawson, which was held by the LNP's George Christensen on a margin of 3% before the election, received four major grants, totalling $1.85 million for the Mackay Hockey Association, Townsville Basketball, Mackay Brothers rugby league and North Queensland Football.

Christensen stretched his margin by 11% points at the May poll.

Other winners were the closely fought electorates of Boothby, Corangamite, Eden-Monaro and Indi which attracted more than twice the average level of funding.

Current Federal Minister for Sport Richard Colbeck said applications were assessed using criteria including community participation; community need; and project design and delivery, telling the ABC “recommendations were provided to the then-minister for sport, who was the Grant Delegate, for final decision and approval.”

The ANAO is due to table a report this month.

Among multiple sports funding announcements made during the Federal election campaign, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison launched a separate grant program for women's change rooms.

Image: Liberal candidate Georgina Downer, the daughter of former Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer, presents a novelty cheque for $127,000 to a South Australian bowling club - instead of the sitting local MP - in the lead up to the May election.

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20th May 2019 - Federal Government Community Sporting Infrastructure Grants invests over $100 million

15th May 2019 - Major parties make sport funding pledges a cornerstone of Federal election campaign

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24th April 2019 - Liberal leaders repeat $15 million budget commitment to Sydney Swans AFLW facilities

16th April 2019 - MP presents $1.5 million novelty cheque to sports club despite funds not being approved

3rd April 2019 - Federal budget includes $385 million to implement Sport 2030 plan

17th February 2019 - Sport Minister McKenzie accepts ridicule in battle to combat obesity

13th February 2019 - Sport Australia welcomes creation of new integrity agency

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8th February 2019 - NSW Premier accused of $25 million sport venue ‘blackmail’ in marginal electorate

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