06 February 2020

Taking Note of Answers - Sports Rorts

I also rise to take note of answers to questions by Labor senators today. I feel for my fellow senators on the other side who have had to come in here and defend this rort this afternoon. I feel for you, Senator Davey, who spoke just before me. But Senator Davey just told us that in this whole sports rorts scandal, in the administration of these grants, it didn't matter if the recipients were in Labor, National or Liberal seats. But the point is it did matter. That's what the Auditor-General found. That's why we're here. That's what we're discussing. If it didn't matter, if it wasn't relevant to the decision-making process, we wouldn't be here. We wouldn't be asking questions about it. We wouldn't be having a Senate inquiry on it. The fact is it did matter to the decision-making process, and that's the problem. That's not acceptable. That's why we've been asking questions.

Sometimes I wonder why we bother when we have such disrespect from senators like Senator Colbeck today. He was asked serious questions about the legality of the administration of this program, and he barely answered. One of them he didn't answer and the other ones he barely answered. He tried to answer quickly—not like that other time where we waited for a minute and 20 seconds or whatever for him to get the first word out—but he barely answered the question, and it was a serious question. Then, following Senator Farrell's further questions, he just sidestepped, trying to pin it all on Senator McKenzie. He tried to pin it all on her—'It's nothing to do with me; it's all Senator McKenzie.' But you can't all do that. You can't all sidestep it. You can't just dump this on Senator McKenzie and walk away, because we know it goes further than her. It goes further than Senator McKenzie. It goes straight to the top. Poor old Senator McKenzie, taking all the blame. But we won't let all of you sidestep it.

It took the Prime Minister more than two weeks to work out what was evident to Australians from the very start: there was a breach of the ministerial standards. But he and all of you are still refusing to address the elephant in the room—that there was a breach in integrity in the administration of this grants program. That is what the Auditor-General found. They are the facts. This government treated a $100 million program like a chequebook rolled out with the sole intent of getting the government re-elected by winning marginal and target seats. So, yes, there were Labor seats—target seats. They were marginal and target seats. We know this. It is clear in the report. After all of this, Senator Cormann then stood in this place, defended Minister McKenzie and said she had done an outstanding job as the Minister for Sport.

Well, tell that to the local sporting clubs in South Australia who spent hours and hours on their grant applications, an enormous effort by volunteers, who thought that when they had a go and put their application in they would get a go and it would be treated fairly, who believed when the government opened this round of applications that they had their best interests at heart, that they cared about sporting infrastructure in local communities. So they took the time in the late hours of the evening and through weekends, tirelessly working on applications. They didn't necessarily expect to win, but they expected a shot at winning. They didn't expect to be struck off because the location of their club didn't happen to be in a marginal or target seat. They expected you to show them the basic respect of reading their application and treating it fairly. It's a pretty reasonable request from Australians. It's a pretty reasonable request—integrity in government and integrity in the administration of a grant program.

Not only can you not give it to them; you can't clean it up properly either. You can't act swiftly to deal with the people responsible. You can't take responsibility for your failure to those clubs, for your failure to those communities, for your failure to the people who wrote those applications and expected a fair go and your failure to the kids in those clubs who had a highly rated application and missed out because of where they lived. Well, they can't all live in your marginal and target seats. They can't! But they should be able to expect that you treat them fairly. They should expect a fair go. This isn't about the clubs who won. It's about the ones who deserved to win but lost, who were robbed because of your motivations.