Community Sport Infrastructure Grant Program

12 February 2020

DAVID SMITH (Bean) (19:50): You either have integrity or you don't, and this government simply doesn't.
On this side we know it, and even some on the other side of the chamber know it. Unless you've been living under a rock, you'd know the details, but here is a quick recap: 'Marginal seat candidate, not an MP, holds up oversized cheque awarding funding to sports club. Auditor-General asked to investigate community sport infrastructure program. Auditor-General releases scathing report, basically finding that money meant for local sport clubs across the country used by coalition to pork-barrel key marginal seats. More than 400 grassroots sports clubs had their applications, highly regarded by Sports Australia, overlooked. Clubs that put in grants, thinking it was a fair process, vent their deep frustrations. PM says: "Hey, it was all the minister. Don't blame me, don't blame my staff." Media organisations run story after story about the maladministration of the program. Prime Minister defends allocating funding to various projects, including women's change rooms for club without a women's team. Under pressure, commissions his former chief of staff, now head of Prime Minister and Cabinet, to have a look at the program. Under further media pressure, arrogantly dismisses the Public Service and Sports Australia officials. Video appears of PM staffer calling for recipients to vote Liberal to say thanks to ScoMo for the grant— not making this up! PM admits that maybe his staff had some part, "All we did was provide information based on the representations made to us." Report from PM&C comes, drafted by his former chief, and what does it find? It finds a technicality against the minister but nothing wrong with how the program has been run. Said whitewashed PM&C report is declared cabinet-in-confidence to avoid any kind of public or parliamentary scrutiny.' What a sad and sorry joke!

One of the most audacious defences for the sports rort affair was the Prime Minister's suggestion that, because members of parliament live and breathe in their communities, they have a better sense of what is needed than public servants. The public servants the Prime Minister seeks to belittle work with sporting organisations across the country every day, from grassroots clubs to elite sporting organisations. They work together with the broader sports industry and have expertise that is built up over decades. We do not have the expertise of these public servants, nor the visibility of competing areas of need across other electorates. This is a convenient position to hold, as it allows the Prime Minister to ignore public policy expertise across all areas of government business.

Yes, we live and breathe in our communities, but this does not absolve members of parliament from being
accountable for our actions. I commend the contribution of Michael Keating, a former head of Prime Minister and Cabinet, who called out the poor saga for what it is. He noted that the PM&C report into Minister McKenzie's handling of the Community Sport Infrastructure Grants fails to address key questions and raises serious concerns about the relationship between government and Public Service. He rightfully notes that the findings are difficult to reconcile with the evidence provided by the Auditor-General. This is compounded by the failure to release the report, which undermines transparency and confidence in the process. Ministers, in exercising ministerial discretion, are not released from a code of conduct that requires them to act with due regard for integrity, fairness, accountability, responsibility and the public interest. The secretary of Prime Minister and Cabinet is also not released from his responsibility, as head of the Public Service, to uphold its values and integrity, remaining apolitical, serving not only the government but also the parliament and the Australian public. As the secretary of PM&C he has let that organisation down and undermined confidence in a critical foundation of our democracy. If we want to rebuild trust in public life it can only be done by starting with a commitment to a federal integrity body with teeth; valuing public service expertise, whether it starts with sports or it relates to climate change; and the resignation of the secretary of Prime Minister and Cabinet.