Six grants worth a total of $260k approved in marginal seat of Longman before election | Australia news
Six taxpayer-funded grants were approved in the key marginal seat of Longman through the Department of Social Services in the month before the last federal election, including $177,000 for the Bribie Island and Districts Junior Rugby League Club.
The club received funding from the $60m Mutual Understanding, Support, Tolerance, Engagement and Respect (Muster) initiative, one of a number of programs distributing grants on a closed, non-competitive basis, requiring invitations from the department to apply.
The Muster initiative, designed to promote community harmony, funded mainly national, state and regional level programs such as education, suicide prevention, cultural and religious programs. While local grants were rare, the key marginal seat of Longman received six.
On Tuesday the Senate select committee on sports grants will hear from clubs that missed out on funding under the controversial $100m community sports infrastructure grant (CSIG) program in Adelaide.
The inquiry has already uncovered emails in which the offices of former sports minister Bridget McKenzie and Scott Morrison proposed shifting projects between programs to fund Coalition election commitments from other departments’ funds, although none of the clubs that won Muster grants had applied to the CSIG fund.
On 1 April, four grants were approved in the Labor-held Coalition target seat of Longman:
$176,929 for the Bribie Island and Districts Junior Rugby League Club
$26,229 for the Burpengary and District Men’s Shed
$20,230 for the Bribie Island Community Arts Society; and
$12,782 for the Wamuran Branch Little Athletics Centre
On 22 April the LNP candidate, Terry Young, advertised one of the commitments on his Facebook account, without specifying the source of the funds.
According to the GrantsConnect website, the grants were formally announced on 14 and 28 June and 8 July, all after the Coalition’s upset victory on 18 May in which Young won the Labor-held seat of Longman.
In his first speech to parliament, Young praised Morrison and the party’s federal campaign director, Andrew Hirst, linking a $500,000 sports grant and a visit from the prime minister to a Caboolture sports club on the eve of the election to his victory by citing the party’s “great strategising”.
The Bribie Island and Districts Junior Rugby League Club announced its Muster grant on 12 June, thanking Young and state LNP MP Simone Wilson “for your assistance”:
On 23 November, Young announced the Wamuran branch little athletics grant on his Facebook, sporting a novelty cheque:
The Muster program was designed to promote shared identity, encourage diverse communities, to “provide support for immersive programs, especially sports and arts” and “build strong, socially cohesive communities”.
Although some local level grants were given, the vast majority were for large national, state or regional level programs such as $6.6m to High Resolve for tolerance programs in schools, $4.4m for the Lebanese Muslim Association and $2.4m to Together For Humanity, a multi-faith organisation.
A spokeswoman for the social services minister, Anne Ruston, told Guardian Australia that “every application was assessed by the department of social services”, which provided recommendations to the minister.
“The minister did not fund any organisations that the department recommended against,” she said.
“The projects referenced were approved for funding prior to the caretaker period so had an identified and agreed funding source as opposed to Labor which put forward billions of dollars worth of unfunded promises.”
On Tuesday the Senate inquiry will hear evidence from emeritus professor Geoffrey Lindell on his submission that he shares the auditor general’s doubts McKenzie had the legal authority to administer the CSIG sports grants, supporting the view of constitutional expert Anne Twomey.
The Adelaide hearing returns the sports rorts affair to the state that kick-started the auditor general’s interest in the program, after failed Liberal Mayo candidate Georgina Downer presented a sports grant to a local community group on a giant novelty cheque emblazoned with her face.
Sport Australia remains under pressure to fulfil a Senate order it defied late last week and answer 40 questions on notice about what it knew about the government’s colour-coded spreadsheets, and when, as well as contact it may have had with the prime minister’s office, after ignoring the Friday deadline.
The committee is also considering recalling Sport Australia and health department officials, after both denied having any “specific recollection” of a late-night meeting former Sport Australia boss Kate Palmer said was called in response to seeing one of the government’s spreadsheets for the first time.
Labor has also asked the attorney general to investigate the former health boss Glenys Beauchamp’s destruction of “personal” notebooks, which may have contained “scratching” of the meeting, after the public service commissioner declined to investigate.
The national archivist can’t say whether or not the law has been broken, as it is unaware of what might have been in the notebooks.
Beauchamp said she had no memory of the meeting when giving evidence on her last day in the public service, and reported she did not make any official note of the meetings with the department.
On Monday 16 March the committee is due to hear from McKenzie and the secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Phil Gaetjens, who found she had failed to declare an interest in one club that received funding.
On Thursday McKenzie reignited the sports rorts controversy by insisting she made no changes to the brief and attachments outlining successful projects funded under the sports grants scheme after 4 April 2019. Morrison has so far refused to say who made the changes or to rule out his office’s involvement.
The shadow social services minister, Linda Burney, said: “The government’s conduct in sports rorts; the prime minister’s refusal to answer questions about his involvement; and new doubts raised about the half a billion dollar Indigenous Advance Strategy grants, have cast a shadow over many of its grants programs, including Muster.”