Key marginal electorates including Eden-Monaro, Dawson and Boothby received twice as much funding as the average seat under the Government’s pre-election sport grant program.
- Coledale Waves soccer club needs a better field to reduce injuries and storage so there is space for its male and female players to change
- Marginal seats received more than twice the funding of an average electorate under the Community Sport Infrastructure scheme
- The scheme is being investigated by the National Audit Office over allegations it was “dodgy”
The Community Sport Infrastructure scheme, which came to prominence after a novelty cheque was presented by Liberal candidate Georgina Downer — rather than the local independent MP — is currently being investigated by the National Audit Office.
The Government has declined to release an electorate breakdown of grants, but ABC analysis of hundreds of announcements available online and on social media — representing more than $90 million of the total $100 million pot — shows a bias of funding towards marginal seats.
And it has left clubs that were unsuccessful asking just where their applications fell down.
Senator Bridget McKenzie, the former sport minister, said “every single project that received funding was assessed under the guidelines, which were all publicly available, as eligible for funding”.
“The reality was, we were significantly oversubscribed,” she said.
The guidelines stated eligible applications would be assessed against three criteria, however 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”.
Making do, not waves
The Coledale Waves soccer club south of Sydney applied for the scheme but was unsuccessful.
Senior women’s player Emma Miles has been with the club for 12 years.
“When I started it was very much focused on juniors, now that everyone’s grown up there are two women’s teams,” she said.
“The juniors will play, then the seniors will play so you have that camaraderie between all the ages.”
The club’s growth is being limited by a lack of lights, a poor playing surface and a single change room currently used for storage.
“If there is space in the change room, which isn’t always the case because there might be gear in there or there might be goal nets, or a whole heap of other stuff, then we’ll get changed inside.
“If there’s no room we’ll often get changed outside.”
The ground is used by 1,200 players each week.
Martin Smith, who coaches the senior men’s team and assists grant applications for Coledale, said the club’s application to the scheme took more than 100 hours.
“Because of our increased playing numbers, we need to radically improve our facilities and infrastructure,” he said.
“We were aware of the criteria and felt we had a very strong case for matching the criteria.
“We weren’t aware the minister’s discretion might come into play.”
Focus on grants
Labor’s sport spokesperson, senator Don Farrell, has previously described the scheme as “dodgy”.
He said this week the closer you looked, the “dodgier” it seemed.
“The fact that [Senator McKenzie] hand-picked and personally approved taxpayer funds for projects not recommended by Sport Australia is very concerning,” he said.
“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 per cent before the election, received four major grants:
- $500,000 for Mackay Hockey Association
- $497,000 for Townsville Basketball
- $491,000 for Mackay Brothers rugby league
- $362,00 for North Queensland Football
Mr Christensen stretched his margin by 11 percentage points at the May poll.
Other winners were the closely fought electorates of Boothby, Corangamite, Eden-Monaro and Indi.
These seats attracted more than twice the average level of funding.
Minister for Sport Richard Colbeck said applications were assessed using criteria including community participation; community need; and project design and delivery.
“Recommendations were provided to the then-minister for sport, who was the Grant Delegate, for final decision and approval,” he said in a statement to the ABC.
The Government has refused to release a breakdown of grants by electorates.
The National Audit Office is due to table a report this month.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison launched a separate grant program for women’s change rooms during the election campaign.