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SUBJECTS: Senate Select Committee on Administration of Sports Grants; Evidence from unsuccessful South Australian applicants.
SENATOR ANTHONY CHISHOLM, CHAIR OF SENATE SELECT COMMITTEE ON ADMINISTRATION OF SPORTS GRANTS: It's a really important day in Adelaide today. It’s the first time we've had been out of Canberra and we've had the opportunity to hear from clubs and councils that have been impacted from government decision making with regards to the sports grants process. We've got Senator Farrell, Senator Marielle Smith, Amanda Rishworth, the Member for Kingston, and we've got Neill from the South Adelaide Football Club as well today. And what we had the opportunity to hear from through our committee process right was those clubs and councils that have been impacted. And they gave compelling evidence about those clubs that put in their applications, received no feedback and missed out because of the political interference of this government. And I thought that the compelling evidence was from the McLaren Football Club in particular today, where their message to the Prime Minister was: ‘I want you to come to our club. I want you to explain to our female players about why we missed out’. So for Mr Morrison to try and say that the questions he tries to avoid answering are from the Canberra Press Gallery or from Labor in Parliament – it's actually the people of Australia and those mums and dads and volunteers who put in so many hours to put forward a grant and have been treated so shabbily by this government. These are the people that this government has to answer for. This is who Labor is fighting on behalf of because these female players, these clubs deserve an answer from this government about the transparency about this program, and why they were ignored, or because of political decision making from the Prime Minister, the Minister for sport and their offices. I'd now like to introduce Marielle Smith to add to those comments.
MARIELLE SMITH, SENATOR FOR SOUTH AUSTRALIA: One of the most striking pieces of evidence we heard today was from a number of clubs who said they had spent literally hundreds of hours each preparing grant applications. Now these clubs didn't necessarily expect to win, but they expected to be treated fairly. They put in hundreds of hours of effort. Effort at nights, on the weekends, of volunteers who are already busy. We heard volunteers who’d lost income, lost money from their businesses because they spent time preparing these applications. They weren't treated fairly. It's very, very scandalous. And these clubs, they didn't expect anything more than that, if they put in the hundreds of hundreds of hours of volunteer effort on behalf of sporting clubs in South Australia, that they would be treated fairly. And they were not.
SENATOR DON FARRELL, SHADOW MINISTER FOR SPORT: Thank you. One of the things that one of the clubs – the Goolwa Pony Club, represented by Dr Meyer today – wanted to know is ‘what does Labor want to get out of this process?’ Well, firstly, we want to ensure that those clubs that Sport Australia recommended to the Minister for approval actually get paid. We don't want another process, another tawdry, shabby process, where clubs put in applications but other considerations come to pass. What we want is those clubs which Sport Australia originally recommended to get their just treatment and that the government come forward and pay those clubs the way that they should have been paid had this scheme game operated fairly. The second thing we want to know is who approved the final, third round of the grants? Last week, on Thursday night, Senator McKenzie, the former minister, indicated that she had signed off on the last round of projects on the 4th of April. We know, within a week 12 changes were made to those proposals. Forty-three million dollars of tax-payers money was awarded by the federal government to, often, teams that didn't get Sport Australia approval. What we want to know is if Minister Mackenzie didn't sign off on those $43 million worth of projects, who did? We know the Prime Minister's tied up with corona-virus at the moment. But it's a pretty simple question. If, former Minister McKenzie didn't sign off on those $43 million worth of projects, who did? Who did sign off on those $43 million worth of projects from the federal government? I’d like to hand over now to Amanda Rishworth who will talk about some specifically local issues in relation to female change rooms in her electorate.
AMANDA RISHWORTH, MEMBER FOR KINGSTON: Thanks, Don. And of course today the Senate inquiry has uncovered more evidence about just how much this sports rorts scandal stinks. Indeed, we've heard evidence today from one of the local clubs in my electorate, the South Adelaide Football Club, about how they missed out on getting money for female changing facilities. Now this program was meant to support women's changing facilities. And of course, they dutifully put in their application. They've been doing really well, South Adelaide, this season and the last two seasons. Indeed, they've got more female premierships than toilets and they're looking to back that up again this year. But instead, they got overlooked. They got overlooked because they had the wrong postcode. Instead, where did money go? Money went to a rugby club – down the road in a marginal seat, for female facilities – that had no female players. I mean, that is how outrageous this scandal is. So today was a good opportunity for local clubs and local people clubs right around South Australia to have their say. But I would like to say to the Prime Minister, it's time they actually put their money where their mouth is. Actually fund these deserving clubs that put in hours, like South Adelaide Football Club. To actually support the women on the ground, who are excelling on the field. But when they walk off the field, they have to walk into the mouse changing group and hope that there's no men in there. It's not good enough, and it's time the Prime Minister fund these projects because they're really important projects.
FARRELL: Questions?
JOURNALIST: Where's the money going to come from to fund all these projects?
FARRELL: Well, the money will come from the Budget. Sport Australia originally proposed that these clubs get that funding. All we're saying to the government is, honour the original grant process. Go to those clubs, which sport Australia said ‘look, you're the most deserving clubs’ and we heard lots of them today at this hearing. It's up to the government now to honour the promise that Sport Australia made to these people. Give them the money that they deserved, because based on the merit program, which all of these clubs thought that they were entering into, they deserve the money.
JOURNALIST: What are some of the worst accounts that you’ve heard from the clubs today?
FARRELL: I think one of the worst is the one Amanda has just referred to and that is the South Adelaide Football Club - more premierships than they've got female toilets; three teams, 45 players. They should have got, based on the concept that this was all about helping and improving women's participation in sport, they were the perfect group that should have got it. We heard from the Goolwa Pony Club – not a big club but 88 per cent female. All they wanted was $39,000, a tin shed so that, if weather conditions were bad, they had some way for the team members to go. That was a perfect example of what this project was supposed to fund and of course they didn't get any money at all even though they scored very highly in the Sport Australia application. The Coromandel Cricket Club – a wonderful oval, but no facilities. They're trying to improve sport in regional parts of South Australia. Again, they scored 90, one of the highest scoring teams in the whole country. Lots of female participants – women are playing cricket in record numbers. Our Australian cricket team is winning international competitions. They should have been funded. What we say to Prime Minister Morrison and the Treasurer is you set up a system which people thought was on the level. People thought that if they participated, the locals, the volunteers got together put in a good application that they’d be determined on their merits. We know now that that didn't happen. We know that the government is going to give some more money. The government has already said they’re going to give some more money. We say give it to these clubs which should have got the money in the first place.
JOURNALIST: How angry were some of the people you heard from today?
FARRELL: They got very angry, I think, when they heard that the government's defence to this was you should have known that the minister was going to make these sorts of decisions. The application form was 13 pages long. There was one small line that said the minister finally approves these applications. Nobody reading that application could have thought that the minister was going to hand all of these grants to the marginal seats that they wanted to win last election, nobody. Nobody reading that document could have got that. But when they heard today, that's the government's defence, I think all of them were pretty enraged.
JOURNALIST: So you’ve had hearings in Adelaide today, what’s the next step?
FARRELL: Melbourne is next. We're hoping that Georgina Downer – who of course was the source that started this process when she got a cheque for the Yankalilla Bowling Club – we're hoping that she'll come along and explain what her role in this whole process was.
CHISHOLM: We're in Melbourne on Thursday, where we'll hear from community groups that missed out and sporting clubs that missed out. But also, next Monday, we also have Mr Gaetjens, the Secretary of the Prime Minister's department. So we'll be very vigorous in our efforts at finding out why his investigation failed to unearth a lot of the things that we’ve subsequently found out through the committee process and also through the estimates process at the same time. So there's still a long process to go through this inquiry and it really is incumbent on the government to start answering questions, releasing documents to enable us to get to the bottom of their decision making. But more importantly, to provide answers to those clubs like South Adelaide and other clubs throughout South Australia and the country that are being dudded by this government. They deserve answers and they deserve the government to be truthful to them.
JOURNALIST: What documents have been withheld?
CHISHOLM: They haven't released a full list of applications and grants. So they've redacted a lot of the commentary around the clubs that applied, what they applied for and the amount of money and scores that they got. So this is something that the government are sitting on and despite numerous Senate orders, despite requests from the Select Committee, they have not provided those documents. So we know that Mr Gaetjens wasn’t thorough in terms of his investigations into this matter. But this Select Committee wants to be thorough. We deserve access to the documents and we will continue to pressure the government, through the process but also through the Senate, to ensure that we get access to those documents so the people, the mums and dads, the volunteers can get the answers that they deserve.
JOURNALIST: How much money do you think it will cost to give funds to the clubs that deserve it?
FARRELL: If it was every club, of course, that would be a large amount of money. But we estimate, based on the government's limited information that they've released, that it would be about $40 million to go to those clubs, which if the process had been on the level, if the teams had been scored based on the scoring system of Sport Australia, it's about another $40 million for those clubs.
JOURNALIST: Neill, you spoke this morning – tell us a little bit about your club’s experience?
NEILL SHARPE, CEO OF SOUTH ADELAIDE FOOTBALL CLUB: We applied for the grant in September 2018 and received a response that we were unsuccessful. I supposed out of today we’ve found out that there were second and third rounds of the funding scheme, which we certainly weren’t aware of, which only adds to our disappointment.
JOURNALIST: What makes it that your club needed it more than someone else who got it?
SHARPE: Well, everyone’s got an argument. I know there was a process, a merit process. We’ve been in the SANFL Women’s competition for two years. This is our third season. We’ve won two premierships in that competition, the senior women’s. We’ve won four Under 17 premierships. We’ve had eight players drafted to the AFLW. So we run a really strong program and yet we do it out of facilities that certainly challenge our female participants.
JOURNALIST: Tell us a bit about those facilities.
SHARPE: Well, the facilities are 25 years old and were built for the South Adelaide men’s team. We’ve got one female toilet and two showers in there that are open showers in a facility that was built 10 years ago for that aspect of the growing number of female volunteers and female umpires at football clubs. But outside of that it’s certainly based for males.
JOURNALIST: So it’s not the best situation for them to train in, is it?
SHARPE: No, it’s not. Girls get changed before they come to training and probably won’t shower at the club. They have to use toilet facilities that have a urinal and open showers and all that sort of stuff. We pride ourselves on running an elite football program and it’s certainly not that at South Adelaide Football Club at the moment for the girls.
JOURNALIST: Were you surprised when you didn’t get any of the funding?
SHARPE: We were disappointed. You apply for these things thinking that it’s based on merit. You think, oh well, maybe there were more worthy participants than what we were but it becomes surprising when you find out that people that scored lower than you, just based on where they were, potentially, received funding.
JOURNALIST: It takes away your faith in the system doesn’t it?
SHARPE: Yeah, a little bit, and hopefully through this process we can have that faith restored.