PAGE TURNER: ‘I simply demanded them all’
AS CONTROVERSY swirls around $100 million in sports grants, did the seat of Page benefit from some good old fashioned "pork-barrelling"?
A comparison of figures from the Australian National Audit Office report into the Community Sport Infrastructure Program shows the Page electorate received $300,000 more in grants than the national average.
The audit showed there was a distributional bias of grants towards marginal seats held or targeted by the Coalition in the lead-up to the 2019 election.
The report also showed grants recommended by Sports Australia but rejected by the then Minister for Sport, Bridget McKenzie, rose in later funding rounds. Successful grants in the third round also "had significantly less assessed merit overall".
While the average funding per electorate was $696,339 across five grants, seven were granted in Page to the tune of $1 million in total.
Three of the projects ¬ $200,000 for the Lismore Tennis Club, $24,000 for the Kyogle Golf Club and $32,220 for the Dunoon United Football Club were approved in the third round of funding.
The $500,000 redevelopment of Yamba Sports complex was approved in round two and the remaining three grants in round one.
Page MP Kevin Hogan said he did not know if the successful projects had been recommended by Sports Australia.
"When speaking with the Minister, I simply demanded them all. I believe all (were) very worthy projects for our community."
The Nationals MP said he had read the ANAO report and the Government would work with Sports Australia to address its recommendations, something which would "strengthen the process".
"That being said, I note that all the grants that were approved were eligible," he said.
"I stand by all of the projects being worthy. Four of the projects are about increasing female participation in sport."
But Labor shadow minister for sport, Don Farrell, called the report "explosive" and said the scheme amounted to an "orchestrated misuse of sports grants" as part of Scott Morrison's re-election strategy.
"Kevin Hogan admitting he demanded this funding, and the fact that he seems to have got everything he wanted, shows exactly how the minister was making her decisions," he said.
"The wrongdoing here is all at the hands of Scott Morrison and Bridget McKenzie, who ignored their own published criteria, and opted for industrial scale pork-barrelling."
Mr Farrell said while advocating for organisations in their community is an important part of a local member's job, it was now "impossible" for clubs to have any faith the Government would assess their grant applications on merit.
"Hardworking club volunteers spent weeks and sometimes months preparing applications that they submitted in good faith and rightly expected to be assessed on their merits," he said.
"They owe an apology and an explanation to the hundreds of organisations that applied for grants in good faith only to learn that their applications were rejected because they weren't on Scott Morrison's list of target seats."