Jan 23, 2020


SUBJECTS: Sports rorts; Bridget McKenzie.

ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: This Government is characterised by its arrogance since the May election. And it is very clear that arrogance began before the election with the sports rorts scandal. Bridget McKenzie’s position is simply untenable. If an employee takes money from a till from their employer, the employer gets pretty upset about that, if it is of use for the individual employee’s own purposes. What is very clear here is that the Government has used taxpayers’ funds as if they were Party political funds. And we saw that writ-large. We saw it when they produced oversized cheques with their name and the photos of the candidates. Not even elected Members of Parliament. The fact is that those oversized cheques represent the illustrated guide to buying your way into power. This abuse is rank. It stinks more than a bucket of prawn heads that you have left out on a hot day like today. The stench goes all the way up to the Government. And today, Andrew Clennell has exposed the fact that sources have told him that the Prime Minister’s office were involved in this scandal. The truth is that Bridget McKenzie needs to resign. And there needs to be full transparency about which applications were successful, which applications weren’t, where they ranked, what the process was behind this scandal. Because we have already had an independent audit by the Australian National Audit Office. And it produced a scathing report condemning this minister. And, again, highlighting that this Government and this Prime Minister, are characterised by being loose with the truth. By always being political. By never putting the national interest first. By being complacent. Whether it’s dealing with bushfires, whether it’s dealing with our national economy, including the flat wages growth that we are seeing and the decline in living standards, whether it’s acting on climate change. This Government continues to just drift along thinking that Government is there for its own purposes, rather than for the purposes to serve the interests of the Australian public. Happy to take questions.

JOURNALIST: Mark Dreyfus suggested this morning (inaudible).

ALBANESE: Let’s be very clear, Labor made comments when Mr Gaetjens was appointed. Again, this Government are seeing the national Government has been there to serve its own political purposes. The fact is that Phil Gaetjens’ inquiry, apparently, was launched last Friday. But they didn’t bother to tell the Australian public until they dropped it out just before the 6pm news last night that an inquiry had been underway, not by yesterday, not the day before, not the day before that, not even the day before that. It had been underway since last week. They just didn’t tell anyone. This is a Government that doesn’t think it needs to tell people when there’s an acting Prime Minister. This is a Government that really just sees holding office as its own play thing. And people will draw their own conclusions. There’s been an independent inquiry. It’s the National Audit Office. That inquiry is enough for Bridget McKenzie to go. And the fact is that the Prime Minister must outline, as well, what the involvement of his office was in running a parallel process that occurred to the official one. No wonder people at Sports Australia are so angry about being sidelined from what the process is that the legislation provides for. And this report, remember this, says that there’s no legal basis that it can find for these grants being offered by ministerial discretion on the basis of Party political decisions by Bridget McKenzie.

JOURNALIST: If Labor thinks Senator McKenzie’s behaviour is so bad and that the Auditor General’s report is so damning, why are you pushing a senate inquiry?

ALBANESE: Well, because this Government just stalls. What do you have to do to resign or be sacked in this Government? We sit there with Angus Taylor sitting on the frontbench. He’s been misleading Parliament since his first speech. Almost every time when he gets up and talks about whether it’s grasslands, whether it be water allocations, whether it be the City of Sydney Council allegations, which are just not true and couldn’t possibly have been true, that he has stood up in Parliament, and said, ‘Well, I just refer to previous answers. And I stand by my answers’. When we know, in fact, that he has apologised. This is a Government that stands up, as well, and isn’t doing its day job. That’s the big problem here. The big problem here isn’t just that the Government distracts by funding bodies that other organisations were ahead of in the ranking. It’s that those sporting organisations, largely run by volunteers that gave up hundreds of hours to put in applications that Sports Australia found were higher ranked and therefore should have received funding instead, didn’t. That this Government continues to say that it’s meeting its emissions target but sent along Angus Taylor to the Madrid conference to argue for an accounting trick rather than actually lowering its emissions because they know it isn’t true. This is a Government that’s loose with the truth. That’s what characterising it. This arrogance that isn’t looking after the national interest.

JOURNALIST: Mr Albanese, do you think Labor could be risking alienating voters in its own seats, given there are many clubs in your own electorates that have benefited from this grants program?

ALBANESE: I think that people know, particularly people who are involved in sport, they know that when you go along, whether it’s a local football game, netball game, whether it’s the under sixes, right through to the NRL or the AFL, or a netball test between us and New Zealand. People expect a level playing field. People don’t expect there to be an umpire on the outside that they can’t see making decisions, saying that ball is out, not in, at the Australian Open. Someone behind closed doors with no transparency. People know that sport, above everything else, is about fairness. This is not fair. They understand that. And we’re not saying that projects might or might not have be appropriate to receive funding. But the fact is there was a limited pool of money. And the fact that some clubs got grants and some didn’t, which were eligible and ranked higher by Sports Australia. This is an independent organisation. And the other thing they’ll think to themselves as they look at whether it’s the connections of Bridget McKenzie or Michael McCormack or Greg Hunt, all of those people have with these announcements and these extraordinary statements that are being made by the clubs themselves thanking them for their lobbying efforts. They’ll be reminded about Muriel’s Wedding, that great Australian movie whereby they come in, the local mayor, of course, is ‘Deidre Chambers, what a coincidence’. And that’s what they’ll be reminded of here. It’s like every time there’s a connection with someone in the Liberal or National Parties it is like, ‘Oh, Deidre Chambers, what a coincidence. Who knew that I was a patron of this club? Who knew that this was a marginal seat?’ Well, the Audit Office have called this out. It’s an outrage. And Bridget McKenzie has to go. Thank you very much.