SUBJECTS: Senate inquiry into sports rorts scandal.
DON FARRELL, SHADOW MINISTER FOR SPORT: I’m here with the Leader today to report to you that the decision by Bridget McKenzie to resign doesn’t mean it’s the end of the sports rorts scandal that we’ve seen over the January period. It is our intention this afternoon to move in the Senate for an inquiry into what’s gone on here. We wish to investigate what the Minister did. The relationship between her office and that of the Prime Minister. And to find out why there was no accountability and no transparency in the awarding of these grants. Thousands of clubs made applications to what they thought was a dinky-di process, an on-the-level process. What they found was that it was nothing of the sort, and they had no chance right from the start of getting any of this grant money. We believe we’ve got the support of the crossbench for the Senate inquiry. And one way or another, we’ll get to the bottom of what’s happened here. And we’ll get some accountability, some transparency into this grants process to make sure that this never happens again. The second thing that we’re calling on the Government to do relates to the original grants. This afternoon, the Government is introducing into the Parliament a Sports Integrity Bill. That bill is intended to improve the integrity of Australian sports men and women. How about Prime Minister Morrison start with some integrity with his own Government? How about Mr Morrison start by saying to the 400 or 500 clubs that genuinely put in an application for a grant, they were assessed by Sport Australia. Some of them scored up to 98. And their applications were rejected and replaced with grants to marginal Liberal seats, marginal National Party seats and the seats that the Government wanted to win off Independents. How about the Government, right away, start with its own set of integrity and start by saying to those clubs, ‘we did you wrong on this occasion, we’re going to right that wrong and we’re going to give you that money’. I’ll hand over to the Leader.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Thanks very much, Don. You don’t get to say that you’re drawing a line under an issue just because you say it’s over. This Government is shambolic. It’s moving from one mess to another. Whether it’s the challenge yesterday of Barnaby Joyce to the Deputy Prime Minister’s leadership, and then a ballot for Deputy Leader of the National Party on a day that we were supposed to be devoting to the bushfire crisis. That underlined what is an ongoing theme of this Government that is all concerned about itself and politics and not concerned about the national interest.
This morning, I attempted to move in the Parliament a debate which would see those organisations where volunteers spent hundreds of hours putting in applications in good faith, thinking that there was a level playing field, thinking that there was a fair umpire and that umpire was called Sport Australia, under the legislation in which this $100 million was allocated. And finding out something very different. Finding out this was a match that was fixed from the beginning. Matchfixing that went to not just Bridget McKenzie, who has been thrown under the bus. They had the Prime Minister’s Office staff sitting in Bridget McKenzie’s office. They had emails that clearly link the Prime Minister’s Office to the decisions asking that grants be given to clubs that didn’t get as high a score as those clubs which received funding. I mean, here you have quite a farce. You have the Prime Minister saying that it was all about women’s change rooms. But you have a club in Adelaide, the electorate of Kingston, South Adelaide Football Club having the application for female change rooms rejected, at the same time as another rugby league football club in the electorate of Sturt. The only problem is that they don’t have any female players or teams. This is a farce. You have the Prime Minister’s own electorate having a football club tell everyone that they’d received money months before it was allocated. You have the struggling Mosman Rower’s Club. They could have collected the money on a Sunday afternoon by putting the hat around, but there you have $500,000 because Tony Abbott was in trouble. And at the same time, struggling clubs that rely upon volunteers were ripped off. That’s why we moved a proposition on the floor of the Parliament calling upon the Government to fund those clubs that were approved by Sport Australia and were knocked off in favour of this industrial sized rort.
The fact is that there needs to be a full and transparent inquiry into this. We need the lists, some of which have been provided to the ABC with colour-coded information there showing the politicisation of this program. And the Prime Minister has allegedly got rid of Bridget McKenzie because of a failure to declare appropriate interests at the same time as Angus Taylor is still sitting on the frontbench, and he’ll be there in Question Time today. What a farce. This is a complete rort. It needs exposure. Because it’s taxpayers’ funds, not Liberal and National Party funds, that have been used here. Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: Who do you expect to call before this inquiry?
ALBANESE: Well, obviously, a place to start will be the Auditor-General. The dismissal by the Government of the Auditor-General’s report, that is very clear, in favour of a report by Scott Morrison’s former chief-of-staff, who says, ‘nothing to see here’, and Scott Morrison’s Attorney General, is quite frankly, farcical. And that is a good place to start. I think another place to start will be, once the list is available of all of the clubs, to actually hear from some of the clubs about how it is that their applications were overlooked. We might actually have some witnesses might choose to try to come forward and ask to speak about the need for a National Integrity Commission so that these sorts of rorts can’t happen into the future.
JOURNALIST: You have said that you believe that it goes all the way up to the top. (Inaudible).
ALBANESE: Well, we’ll wait and see how the process plays out. But, you have circumstances here whereby this is a scandal of massive proportions. I’ve seen quite a few Audit Office reports. I used to sit on the Public Accounts and Audit Committee of the Parliament. I’ve never seen a report so scathing, so unequivocal as this one into this scandal.
JOURNALIST: You had the support of the crossbench into this inquiry before Bridget McKenzie said she was resigning. Are you still confident that you still have that support?
FARRELL: Yes. I spoke to all the crossbenchers on Sunday night after the decision of Bridget McKenzie to resign. And all of them have reiterated their support for this inquiry. The inquiry simply doesn’t end because Bridget McKenzie resigns. There’s a whole lot of unanswered questions here. The Leader has just talked about some of the people that we’ll be talking to. But I think you’ll find each day more and more clubs come forward realising that they should have got a grant but didn’t because we had an industrial scale pork-barrel here by the Government. And I think we’ll find that we’ve got a whole lot of people who want to give evidence, including, perhaps people from the Minister’s own office. We know already that those people who have come forward and said that they told the Minister that what she was doing was wrong. Now, I’m hoping those people come forward. And of course, we know from Sport Australia, that they wrote letters to the Minister saying, what you’re doing here is wrong. So, I think we’ll have a whole host of people prepared to come forward and expose these rorts, but also hopefully come forward and provide a solution that we never have this again.
JOURNALIST: We very rarely hear from ministerial advisors about these programs when there are inquiries into them. And yet some of those advisors within ministerial offices do make key decisions, bigger decisions than the bureaucrats in the department. Do you think that there should be any measure taken to compel ministerial advisors to appear before this inquiry? Is that even technically possible?
FARRELL: We will use all of the powers available to the Senate to get to the bottom of this absolute rort. If it’s possible to get those witnesses to come even if the Government resists, or they themselves resist, we will use all of the powers that are available to the Senate to get to the bottom of this.
JOURNALIST: Mr Albanese, do you think all ministerial discretion should be removed from grants programs and departments should handle it from now on as transparent and public (inaudible)?
ALBANESE: Well, there is actually a process for grants. It’s been outlined in terms of if any minister wants to change a decision, they have to put it in writing. They have to explain what the circumstances are. They have to go to the Finance Minister and seek approval for that to occur. There’s a range of protections in there. What we have here is a conscious decision by the Government. In the way and the structure that they set up this Sport Australia process, which was established with rorting in mind in its very structure. And what I think there needs to be, as well, is, as I have said before, there needs to be a National Integrity Commission that would have the independent power to launch investigations, to get to the bottom of issues like this, to compel witnesses, to get answers. If that occurred, then this, I believe, wouldn’t be possible. The other thing that has been quite extraordinary, and I’ll conclude on this, has been quite extraordinary, is the fact that the Government and Government ministers from the Prime Minister down, still continue to defend this program, even though it’s exposed for all the world to see. This Prime Minister is loose with the truth. He’s prepared to say that black is white, if it’s convenient. And this program exposes not just the character of this Prime Minister, but the very character of this Government.