Speeches

LATEST IN THE COALITION'S SPORT RORT

February 27, 2020

This is a government that continues to preside over corrupt programs—corrupt programs that use taxpayers' resources to derive personal political benefit for members of the Liberal and National parties. You have to consider how this started. The scene was set in 2018, when after knocking off Malcolm Turnbull this was a desperate government.

This was a government driven by division, a government with no agenda but holding onto power. So they turned to looking at any single program they could use to throw money for political benefit, to derive any political gain they could have from taxpayers' money. We've seen some of the most egregious rorting this nation has ever witnessed. We've seen rorting of the $100 million Community Sport Infrastructure Grant Program and the $150 million female facilities and water safety stream. We've seen rorting at Olympic scale and then we've seen them try to make Senator McKenzie the patsy, the fall guy for this, saying that she did it all, that she was entirely responsible for this rorting. But the truth is that we know there was a conspiracy led by the Prime Minister's office to corrupt this process for grubby political ends. We only have to look at the events of the last two days in question time to see that confirmed.

What are the details of sports rorts 1? We saw Round 1, where 41 percent of projects approved by the minister were not recommended by Sport Australia. The closer they got to the election, the more desperate they got; the more the Prime Minister tried to hold onto power by his fingernails. We saw 70 percent of projects were rejected by Sport Australia. Round 3 was approved 17 minutes after we entered the caretaker period. Seventeen minutes after we entered the caretaker period, 73 projects were rejected by Sport Australia. It is not only that; we saw the ANAO decide the entire program is questionable in terms of its legality.

What sorts of projects were supported against Sport Australia's recommendations? What sorts of projects required the Prime Minister and the minister to say, 'We're going to support battlers. We're going to support battlers in struggling suburbs'? There was $50,000 for one of richest golf clubs in the country, Royal Adelaide, to install solar panels. I'm reliably informed that's about one annual membership. If they got one more member for the club, they could have paid for the solar panels themselves. There was $500,000 that went to the struggling Mosman Rowing Club—that bastion of battlers! The member opposite is from Wyong. I'm sure many members there go to Mosman rowers for a good row, maybe a chardonnay afterwards. And then there was $190,000 for another golf club to install facilities for wedding receptions. Wedding receptions! How is that advancing sports participation in this country? What it does advance is the naked political interests of those opposite. Then the most egregious—my favourite was $50,000 to the Sans Souci Football Club for a project not only already funded; it was already built and it was opened three days later by the council!

An honourable member:  In whose electorate?

Mr CONROY:  Good question! It happened to be in the Prime Minister's electorate. And it happened to be opened by one of the Prime Minister's mates who was a state member there.

An honorable member:  He doesn't have any mates.

Mr CONROY:  That's true—I'm misleading the House. That's the most egregious example of this rorts project.

We saw further revelations only last week that, despite the Prime Minister misleading this House that all projects approved were eligible, the ANAO in fact found that 43 percent of projects, 290 projects in all, were ineligible. Under this corrupt program, the interventions came at the top. We saw 136 emails from the Prime Minister's office. We saw revelations today that, in Round 3, where 73 percent of projects were rejected by Sport Australia, Minister McKenzie wrote to the Prime Minister asking for permission, identifying the projects she intended to approve, on 10 April—colour coded in a spreadsheet by party status. And then after, presumably, the Prime Minister approved the 73 percent of projects, the backdated brief was received by the department at 8.46am on 11 April, 17 minutes after the caretaker period began. And again we saw today the Prime Minister misleading the House, saying that the projects were approved on 4 April, when, in fact, the substance of the email to the Prime Minister makes it very clear that the minister hadn't approved the projects when she wrote to the Prime Minister on 10 April.

What's even worse—if you can believe that—is that yesterday the Prime Minister was bragging about the political intervention of his party and his candidates in this process.

He openly bragged about the now member for Lindsay—who was merely a candidate at that stage—dictating which projects would go to Lindsay. She identified which projects would be approved. He bragged about it yesterday. We saw in the ANAO report that the Queensland Liberal National Party head office—the secretariat—dictated which projects were going to Longman. Just imagine that for a second: a party headquarters decided how taxpayers' money would be allocated in a seat they were trying to win at the election. Yet again, we've seen this program corrupted, and we've seen the Prime Minister openly bragging about the level of political intervention.

Then we have sports rorts 2, the $150 million for the female facilities stream. It was meant to be regional. It was meant to help regional sporting clubs invest in female changing rooms to increase female participation. What we saw was no guidelines for the program, no applications process, no eligibility criteria and no merits based assessment—only hand-picked projects, and the money being treated as a slush fund by the government. And what was the result? For a program meant to target rural and regional areas, 80 percent of the money went to building swimming pools—not female changing sheds—in marginal electorates in the cities. Only 10 percent went to rural and regional areas. And the most egregious example was the $10 million for the North Sydney Olympic Pool—that renowned regional area! They've been creative about trying to defend it, I'll give them that. The mayor of North Sydney claimed it was a regional pool because someone from the country might have once swum there. Just think about that for a minute. We had some jokes today that maybe if they had classified it as a dam, they might have got support.

An honourable member interjecting—

Mr CONROY:  Exactly—what a joke! What's next, the Sydney Harbour Bridge getting funding under the rural bridges program, or the Opera House getting support under a regional arts fund? This is how low this government has stooped. And the people who suffer are the people of Australia, particularly in those sporting clubs who are suffering. Garden Suburb Football Club in my electorate is turning away female soccer teams because the women need to get changed in the canteen or in their cars. These are the people who are suffering because this government presides over corrupted programs. These are programs run for one cause only: to advance their political interest. They are programs designed to misuse taxpayers' money—$250 million, in this case—to advance their political ends, to settle grubby political scores, and to win votes in a desperate bid to hold on to power after they knocked off their second Prime Minister. What a disgrace. And the Australian people are coming for them. The Australian people are sick of them. The Australian people will wreck on this in two years time.

View my full speech here.

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