Tony Abbott: councils and sports clubs in former PM’s seat received $1m in grants | Australia news
Councils and sports clubs in Tony Abbott’s seat of Warringah received more than $1m in grants under a controversial federal program, including a $70,000 grant to a surf lifesaving club of which Abbott was a member.
The Guardian can also reveal that a second Coalition MP failed to declare his connection to a rugby union club in Sydney’s affluent north shore, which received a $500,000 grant just before the election.
The revelations come as Scott Morrison said he had referred former sports minister Bridget McKenzie’s handling of the $100m sports grants program to his department to investigate whether ministerial standards were breached.
On Wednesday Guardian Australia reported that nine clubs which received funding under the $100m sports grants programs have links to current Coalition ministers, MPs and senators, including the Wangaratta Clay Target Club, which received $35,980 and boasts McKenzie as a member.
McKenzie had failed to declare her membership to parliament, prompting renewed calls by Labor for her to resign.
In the marginal seat of Warringah, which Abbott lost to independent Zali Steggall after a 12.6% drop in the Liberal party’s primary vote, major grants were given to the Mosman Rowing Club ($500,000), Queenscliff Surf Lifesaving Club ($70,000) and to Wakehurst Tennis ($39,700).
In his register of interests for the 45th parliament, Abbott declared in September 2016 that he was a member and patron of the Queenscliff Surf Lifesaving Club.
According to Sport Australia, the club received $70,000 in the first round of grants under the community sport infrastructure grant scheme, awarded in December 2018.
The grants are to help the Queenscliff Surf Life Saving Club build a canteen facility for the surf club pavilion community hall, which a Sport Australia spokeswoman said would help support a range of community and sporting groups.
That month the club also landed in hot water for spending $1,200 to attend a Liberal party event. According to the Sydney Morning Herald, Queenscliff Surf Lifesaving Club bought nine tickets at $135 each to attend a tribute dinner on 11 August 2017 for Mike Baird and the outgoing Manly mayor, Jean Hay.
Abbott announced the grant on Facebook on 19 December 2018: “[The] most important task of a local member is to do what he or she can reasonably do to support local organisations.
“Our surf clubs do a wonderful job keeping our communities safe, promoting good characters and healthy lives and I’m very pleased the federal government has been able to help the Queenscliff Surf Life Saving Club.”
Grants were also given to North Sydney council ($135,500), which covers the Warringah and North Sydney electorates, and two grants totalling $330,000 to the Northern Beaches council, which covers Warringah and Mackellar.
Guardian Australia has also found a second Coalition MP, Trent Zimmerman, did not declare to parliament that he was a patron of the Hunters Hill Rugby Club on Sydney’s affluent north shore, which received a $500,000 grant – the maximum available – for new facilities, including women’s change rooms.
He told the Guardian he advocated for federal support for his local electorate on a “range of fronts, including for better sporting facilities”.
Zimmerman said he had advocated for the upgrade of the Hunters Hill Rugby Club’s facilities but that the club had taken the lead in submitting the application.
“I have supported all applications when requested by sporting groups to do so, including for the upgrade of facilities at Boronia Park ovals,” he said. “[It] will benefit a range of sporting users of the ovals there, including rugby, who took the lead in submitting the application.”
Zimmerman said he was proud to be a patron but that it was an honorary role. He was not a member of the club.
“I am proud to be a patron of a number of local community organisations like most active local MPs, including Hunters Hill Rugby,” he said. “These are honorary roles. I am not a member of the rugby club.”
Other MPs have declared their patronage of sporting clubs on their register of interests.
In a statement on Wednesday, Morrison revealed that on Friday he referred the auditor general’s report into the $100m sports grant program to the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet “for advice in relation to any actions in the application of the statement of ministerial standard”.
Before the latest revelation, McKenzie’s position had been backed by the attorney general, Christian Porter, and the deputy prime minister, Michael McCormack.
Porter said on Wednesday that he had not seen anything “that requires some further level of attention in terms of probity”.
“All projects the minister approved and announced were eligible for funding.
“I remain supportive of Minister McKenzie and her efforts to deliver on what communities expect from their governments.”
Guardian Australia contacted Abbott and Zimmerman for comment.