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Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee
Office for Sport

Office for Sport


CHAIR: I welcome witnesses from the Office for Sport.

Senator BERNARDI: Minister, it is reported that $7.5 million of additional funding was provided to the Football Federation of Australia. Is that correct?

Mr Eccles : Yes, the PAES provide the detail of that $7.5 million.

Senator BERNARDI: What was the $7.5 million used for or allocated towards?

Mr Eccles : The $7.5 million is being provided to support the Football Federation in the lead-up to the 2015 Asian Cup to ensure its ongoing sustainability and to assist it to position itself and put in place the necessary structures for the Asian Cup.

Senator BERNARDI: Okay. Should that sum appear on the grants and allocations spreadsheet that is on the Australian Sports Commission web site?

Mr Eccles : No. That is being provided through the Office for Sport, which is in the department.

Senator BERNARDI: Minister, how does that sit with your earlier claim that you were concerned about funding for professional sports? You have made statements—

Senator Arbib: Which claims?

Senator BERNARDI: I am looking for the right document.

CHAIR: If possible, you might table that document, if that would make it easier.

Senator BERNARDI: It would not help me at all, Senator Sterle. Minister, you have talked about how you regard the Australian Sports Commission as a bureaucracy out of control and how you want it to return to its regular charter. And I know that these funds are separate to the ASC funding.

Senator Arbib: You have seen that in print, Senator Bernardi?

Senator BERNARDI: I have. An article from last year reported that Minister Arbib wanted the ASC to refocus on its original charter. I quote:

The ASC is a bureaucracy out of control. Senator Arbib wants it to re-focus on its original charter, which ...

Senator Arbib: A quote from me saying that the bureaucracy is out of control?

Senator BERNARDI: That is what it says.

Senator Arbib: That is what the media said.

Senator BERNARDI: If you let me finish—

Senator Arbib: Are you paraphrasing?

Senator BERNARDI: No, I am reading directly from what is quoted in a story.

Senator Arbib: Was it a media release?

Senator BERNARDI: No, it was not a media release. It was written by Rebecca Wilson in the Advertiser of 6 August 2011.

Senator Arbib: First off, I do not think I ever made that statement. Secondly, I think, as Mr Eccles just said, the money that went to Football Australia was not from the Australian Sports Commission.

Senator BERNARDI: I have acknowledged that. I asked how that does sit with your reported criticism that funding for professional sports is not consistent with the charter of the Australian Sports Commission about supporting amateur—

Senator Arbib: I do not think I have ever said that.

Senator BERNARDI: So you are saying it is an inaccurate article?

Senator Arbib: I am saying I have not got the article in front of me but I do not ever recall saying that.

CHAIR: Would you care to say then, Minister, that you don't believe anything you read in the paper?

Senator Arbib: That is possible. If I can elaborate, I think there are plenty of opportunities for government to work with professional sports. We provide a great deal of funding for professional sports to meet our aims as a government particularly to increase participation. There are countless programs we run with the NRL, the AFL, Cricket Australia, netball—you name it—to try and increase the number of kids playing sport and increase opportunities. I think that is entirely appropriate.

Senator BERNARDI: So as for the request for the $7.5 million, I am going to make the presumption it came from Football Federation Australia.

Mr Eccles : That is right.

Senator BERNARDI: Was that on top of the $16.5 million that was already allocated or is it another part?

Mr Eccles : What $16.5 million are you referring to?

Senator BERNARDI: The $16.5 million—

Senator Arbib: Are you talking about the $16.5 million that came from—

Senator BERNARDI: I am not sure.

Senator Arbib: I am just checking because they provided—

Senator BERNARDI: I am just saying that, according to the PM&C website, the total they have given to the effort to support football in the lead-up to the Asian Cup, by August 2012, is $16.5 million. In fact, if I look at the grant announcements, it says:

To provide funding to ensure the sustainability of football leading up to the 2015 Asian Football Confederation Asian Cup, paid in two instalments of $8.25 million with the second payment subject to the outcomes of the Strategic Review of Football in Australia.

I am just asking: is this additional payment on top of that?

Mr Eccles : I would need to find out what 16.5 you are referring to.

Senator BERNARDI: I am referring to this: the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, on their website, about grants, says that it was approved on 1 June 2011 and it was $16.5 million in value.

Mr Eccles : I have just had clarified for me that that 16.5 is GST inclusive and that includes the $7.5 million that was in the PAES and the $7.5 million that was provided last financial year.

Senator BERNARDI: So that goes to my question and so it is not additional.

Mr Eccles : It is not. It is a part of that.

Senator BERNARDI: It is simply a part of that grant.

Mr Eccles : It is the final payment of that grant.

Senator BERNARDI: Thank you. I am going to go to the ASC, so I might need an officer from the ASC, please. It was reported in the Australian that $1.25 million that was usually spent by the ASC for overseas development programs in India and the Pacific, for the development of football, was instead given to FFA to administer. Is that correct? And is this your first estimates, Mr Hollingsworth?

Mr Hollingsworth : Yes.

Senator BERNARDI: You may want to resign from your job immediately after the department leave! But I should say welcome. So it is about the $1.25 million. Apparently you used to administer it through the ASC for these programs but that has been given to FFA to administer. Is that correct?

Mr Hollingsworth : The Australian Sports Commission, in partnership with AusAID, delivers a number of programs through the Australian Sports Outreach Program in partnership with a number of professional sports including netball and football. The federation is one of them, yes.

Senator BERNARDI: Okay, that is terrific. But you used to administer this program yourself and now the $1.25 million has been given to Football Federation Australia. I want to know if that is correct.

Mr Eccles : I can provide a little bit of historical context. It is still administered through the Sports Commission. The Sports Commission is responsible for developing the relationships and finalising the grants. The origin of the funding is AusAID. It gets channelled through the Sports Commission, who utilise their processes. In this instance, as Mr Hollingsworth said, funding ends up with the NRL. It might end up in netball. It depends on the strategic aid issue that is being dealt with. In this instance the FFA is a recipient of that sort of funding.

Mr Arnott : There is a netball program in India for which money comes out of AusAID and netball undertake—

Senator BERNARDI: I understand. Is it an on-line appropriation in that instance? Are the programs approved by AusAID or by the Sports Commission?

Mr Eccles : It is through the Sports Commission.

Senator BERNARDI: Who makes the decision about which programs are actually operated in these places?

Mr Eccles : I think it is a decision that is made in partnership between the Sports Commission and AusAID but it depends on the—

Senator BERNARDI: My terminology is 'on-line appropriation' meaning 'Okay, here it is. You get $1.25 million; you can do what you want with it in these places.' Or is it for specific programs?

Mr Eccles : They are absolutely to address specific or broad issues. In the context of the money you are talking about, it was a Pacific Sports Partnerships program, which had some specific deliverables including things, I recall, about programs about respect for women, getting girls involved in sport and other elements. The Sports Commission channelled the funding to the FFA to administer it and to provide the—

Senator BERNARDI: I am satisfied with that, Ms Beauchamp, unless you want to add something. I will tell you the reason I am asking. It seems to me that it could be considered that there is a bottomless pit of cash from government flowing into the FFA. I do not want to be disrespectful but the FFA in their annual report disclosed where their previous funding sources came from—from sponsorship, match payments and all these other things, including from government. They are not doing that any more. They declared a modest loss in their last annual report and claimed that as a big improvement. I am concerned—it is about transparency—whether that big improvement in the change to a modest loss from an earlier, larger loss is due to government injecting money.

Mr Eccles : I am aware of the media article about that. I am not sure that that tells the complete picture. All I can say is that FFA has been transparent with us and that we have had the appropriate justifications for the expenditure of public funds.

Senator Arbib: When football in the nineties was in a very poor shape—in financial terms and also because of ethnic tensions—and was on the verge of collapse, I am sure you know that the then Prime Minister John Howard intervened.

Senator BERNARDI: I was on the board, actually. I am familiar with the history and I supported—

Senator Arbib: I know but am going to take you to the current history.

Senator BERNARDI: You are going to have a go at me about something.

Senator Arbib: No, I am not. It is important to know a bit of background.

CHAIR: We do not do that!

Senator Arbib: John Howard intervened in football and worked with Frank Lowy. Government has been working since then in partnership with FFA to try and ensure that football in this country is sustainable. I think that the best way to look at the FFA's former, current and future finances is to have a look at the Warwick Smith report into football. The review was done mainly to ensure that the governance of the FFA was appropriate to build the sustainability of football. This is something that Mr Lowy and Mr Buckley have said to me. They are 100 per cent supportive of football becoming sustainable but obviously the cost structures are extremely high, especially when you are playing, I think, five or six teams in international competitions overseas. The review has recommendations that the FFA must undertake in terms of their governance and also in terms of reducing their costs. It also provides recommendations that government can monitor into the future with benchmarks.

CHAIR: There was a flurry of activity down at the end of the table and Mr Nance looked as if he had just won TattsLotto. Did you want to add anything, Mr Nance, to assist, Senator Bernardi?

Mr Nance : No, I do not. It seems to have moved on from—

CHAIR: You tricked me with the way you were smiling! Sorry, Senator Bernardi.

Senator BERNARDI: Minister, my concern is not so much FFA; it is about the representations that I get from literally dozens of other sports that money is so tight for sport. The government is the biggest sponsor of sport in this country and we want to see not only participation. I understand there is great participation there, but the professional sports typically have received a great deal less in funding—

Senator Arbib: A great deal less in funding?

Senator BERNARDI: because they have other income sources. It seems to me that FFA is getting enormous injections of cash and other sports are seeing that and saying, 'We could do with a bit more as well.' It is hard to explain to them. I am not having a go at FFA. They are doing their business. They are asking you for the stuff that they want. I support the transparency that is there. I have some concerns about their annual report, which I raised earlier. It is about the whole of sport in this country. There is $8 million, or whatever it is. Extra that goes into one sport is $8 million that is not going to appear somewhere else.

Senator Arbib: The Smith report was especially put in place for that reason. The goal is the sustainability of football—that is what we are working towards—so it is sustainable without large injections of government funding. I refer you to the recommendation, Senator Bernardi, because that is exactly what it goes too. As part of the recommendation, there are changes that FFA need to make in terms of their cost structures, particularly around the stadium and the stadium deals they have. We are going to take that seriously into the future, and I know they take that seriously as well.

In relation to other sports, though, I would just add that there are record amounts of funding going into sport in this country. In the May budget in, I think, 2010 there was an extra $195 million put into sport and that money is being used by sports in terms of high performance but also in terms of participation programs that we really have not had in this country in the past. At the same time as that, we have worked with the AOC, the Australian Olympic Committee, through the Sports Commission to try to ensure that we are best prepared for the London games. We came up with the Green and Gold project. We just provided extra funding and targeted support for athletes, especially those athletes who are just outside the medals or come in around the bronze or silver area.

Senator BERNARDI: Minister, I hate to interrupt you, but could you put it on notice. I only have three more minutes.

Senator Arbib: Sorry. I am just trying to explain. You have raised that money, and it is important—I agree with you—and we want to make sure that all sports get some of the money.

Senator BERNARDI: And it is genuine. Let me go to this briefly. You talked about participation programs. The Active After-Schools Communities program has been a great success. You have 3,000 schools. I will stand corrected on that. It is something along those lines. I also understand that there is no commitment for funding past 2012.

Senator Arbib: I am a big supporter of the program. There has been a review of the program. We are looking at how to improve the program and make sure that it is better coordinated with weekend sporting competitions and sporting clubs. At the same time as that, it is part of the normal budget process of the cabinet, and those issues will be discussed and there will be announcements in the budget.

Senator BERNARDI: Mr Hollingsworth, you could probably help me with this. Are there any difficulties in retaining staff attached to the AASC program, given the uncertainty and the cloud hanging over its continued operation?

Mr Hollingsworth : No, Senator. It is a competitive market always to attract and retain talent, but we have made significant progress, often in partnership with our key sports, in terms of retaining a number of coaches beyond London. A number of coaches have already signed up. You are always going to see a bit of movement of coaches in the international market.

Senator BERNARDI: Forgive me for interrupting, but this is about the people who are operating this Active After-Schools Communities program.

Mr Hollingsworth : Sorry—my apologies.

Senator BERNARDI: I will give you a compliment in a minute, so you can just play a straight one to this.

Mr Hollingsworth : In relation to AASC staff?

Senator BERNARDI: Yes. Do you have trouble retaining them, given that there is uncertainty and there is a cloud hanging over the continued funding?

Mr Hollingsworth : We have to carefully manage that. There was funding uncertainty in the past and we managed that successfully and retained a large number of existing staff. We do get some turnover, but we invest in significant effort in terms of keeping staff aware of where things are up to in the program. Since I started this job back in September, I have personally been around to meet each of the officers right around the country. There are a couple still missing, but I am struck by the enthusiasm and passion these people have for this program. That is a good counterbalance to some of the obvious uncertainty that comes from not knowing about funding beyond the end of the year.

Senator BERNARDI: You will not get any complaints from me about the program. I do think that it is worth continuing and there is continued uncertainty. It seems like every year we revisit this sort of conversation. Let me congratulate you and the team at the ASC—I hope correctly—on the recruitment of Matthew Favier from the UK. It is an excellent appointment, albeit he has not started as yet.

Mr Hollingsworth : No.

Senator ARBIB: Do you know whether he had a background—

Senator BERNARDI: What the ASC does not say is that he was going to start in early 2012, but on some other websites—

Mr Hollingsworth : We are delighted that Mr Favier is coming back from a stint in the UK. He spent 10 years in high performance and he has got a strong understanding of the system here. We were keen to see him start as soon as possible. His task is obviously focused on London, but much will be on strategy and future direction as well. The British government confirmed that we have got the right person for the job and has been being quite stringent in not allowing him to start early. That has meant that his start has been delayed until 15 March. In the scheme of things that is not going to affect our overall performance in London at all.

Senator BERNARDI: It gets them back for taking a couple of ours over the years.

Senator BUSHBY: What involvement did the office for sport have in a decision to grant $15 million for the redevelopment of Bellerive Oval, or Blundstone Arena, in Hobart?

Mr Eccles : The office for sport was asked for some advice by the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet on the status of the plans for the redevelopment of Bellerive Oval.

Senator BUSHBY: What date were you asked for that advice?

Mr Eccles : I would need to check on the date, but it was around the Christmas period. I do not recall the date off the top of my head.

Senator BUSHBY: So well prior to the new year?

Mr Eccles : It could well have been. All I know is that I was on leave so it could well have been around the Christmas-New Year period, but I will have to check.

Senator BUSHBY: It might have been early this year or it might have been a bit before.

Mr Eccles : I do not think that it was before Christmas.

Senator BUSHBY: When did you come back to work?

Mr Eccles : About the twelfth, so it was before 12 January.

Senator BUSHBY: If you could take that on notice, it would be appreciated. So you provided advice, essentially, as to the due diligence process regarding the application—is that so?

Mr Eccles : We provided advice on the background to the plans. I think it is best to characterise it as providing background information on the plans for the redevelopment of the Bellerive Oval to the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.

Senator BUSHBY: Would that have included a recommendation on whether to assist or not?

Mr Eccles : No, we were not asked for that information.

Senator BUSHBY: Prior to being asked for that advice, you had not looked at this application at all?

Mr Eccles : I am not sure what you mean by 'this application'. We have been in discussions with states and territories around the stadium developments and stadium redevelopments for several years.

Senator BUSHBY: This particular development proposal by Cricket Tasmania regarding the development that they are looking at doing at Bellarine—

Mr Eccles : Not this specific one, we hadn't. It was not on our radar—

Senator BUSHBY: Before the Prime Minister's office contacted you seeking your advice?

Mr Eccles : That is right.

Senator BUSHBY: When the Prime Minister's office did contact you, did you liaise at all with Regional Development Australia, given a full application had been made to them with regards to that development?

Mr Eccles : No, Senator. We provided the advice to the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.

Senator BUSHBY: But in terms of preparation of that advice, did you liaise with RDA?

Ms Beauchamp : It was not a full application to the RDA. The RDAs, in terms of Regional Development Australia fund, get a broad range of applications. I think there are about 462. That was a separate process. The government quite rightly funds different projects under different programs. On this occasion, the announcements were made about funding Bellerive Oval outside of the process that the department was managing around the Regional Development Australia fund.

Senator BUSHBY: You say it was not a full application. It was an application under round 1—

Ms Beauchamp : No, it was only an expression of interest.

Senator BUSHBY: Yes, then if I understand that, RDA then moves some applications through to round 2 for further work. Is that correct?

Ms Beauchamp : This time we have gone through a slightly different process. We have asked for expressions of interest and have asked Regional Development Australia committees, of which there is one in Tasmania covering the whole of Tasmania, to prioritise those projects. Unfortunately, there is obviously a number of worthy projects, but we had asked the Regional Development Australia committee to put forward three. There was only a small amount of work done in the expression of interest process, but as I say the government funds infrastructure projects through a number of programs. Bellerive was done separately.

Senator BUSHBY: I understand. I do not want any misconception that I do not think that funding the Bellerive development is not a worthy project. I think it is a fantastic thing and I am very supportive of it. But my questions are going to different things. When the office provided the advice to the Prime Minister's office, were they aware—

Mr Eccles : The Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.

Senator BUSHBY: The Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, sorry. Were you aware that Regional Development Australia had not recommended that the application to it under the RDAF proceed?

Mr Eccles : I would need to check with the range of staff who did take the calls and facilitate the provision of the background information to PM&C. It was not on my radar when I was involved.

Senator BUSHBY: You were directly involved with the provision of the advice to the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet?

Mr Eccles : Over the phone from the South Coast.

Senator BUSHBY: When you look at something like that, do you apply selection criteria or do you issue a standard set of—?

Mr Eccles : I think you are going to the decision-making process. That would need to be referred to—It was a decision made by the government and announced by the Prime Minister. I think you might need to seek some of the background information from PM&C regarding the process for decision making.

Senator BUSHBY: I suspected that might be the case with this particular ones.

Mr Eccles : Our role was to contribute to their considerations. We provided them with what can best be described as background information on the nature of the proposal.

Senator BUSHBY: Do you know where the money came from? Was it out of any recognised fund? Obviously, nothing that you administer.

Mr Eccles : It is absolutely not from any money that we administer. However, it will be the Office for Sport that will give effect to that commitment and work with the proponents to finalise the proposal and ensure the funding flows.

Senator BUSHBY: Will it come out of your funding?

Mr Eccles : No, it will not.

Senator BUSHBY: At all?

Mr Eccles : No, it is new money that is coming to the portfolio.

Ms Beauchamp : It has been identified in the portfolio additional estimates as new funding.

Senator BUSHBY: So it is unfunded, effectively, prior to the decision being made. Then it is not out of an identified fund that would be—

Mr Eccles : Not that we would be aware of.

Senator BUSHBY: That would have been in the last year or whatever.

Ms Beauchamp : It is now a separate appropriation.

Mr Eccles : Yes.

Senator BUSHBY: Okay. Minister, do you have any involvement with the decision?

Senator Arbib: There have been many discussions around Bellerive, there have been discussions around stadiums across the country for many months. During the football world cup process, there was a huge amount of work done in the stadia in this country. There has been intense lobbying from state governments across the board about trying to ensure that they get funding. I cannot recall any direct—

Senator BUSHBY: But you do not recall any specific involvement or provision of advice to the Prime Minister or her office regarding the provision of $15 million for Bellerive Oval?

Senator Arbib: I will need to check..

Senator BUSHBY: If you could—

Senator Arbib: There have been numerous discussions in sports circles, sports minister circles, about stadiums. I know that Bellerive has been one of those.

Senator BUSHBY: I am sure that everyone wants money for this.

Senator Arbib: No, Bellerive has been one of the grounds where there have been discussions. I have been approached in the past by Tasmanian ministers and had informal discussions about that stadium.

Senator BUSHBY: I am particularly interested though in whether you had between 11 January and 16 January, inclusive, discussions with the Prime Minister or the Prime Minister's office regarding—

Senator Arbib: I had no discussion with the Prime Minister about it.

Senator BUSHBY: Or your office? Anybody in your office?

Senator Arbib: I will need to check.

Senator BUSHBY: If you could take that on notice, it would be appreciated. Thank you.

CHAIR: On that, Senator Bushby. Thank you very much. It is now 11:00 pm and I am having a groundhog day moment. Ms Beauchamp, it has been an honour and a pleasure having you and your officers here. Thank you very much. I do pass on my thanks to the Department of Regional Australia and Local Government, Arts and Sports. Minister Arbib, thank you very much for your assistance today.

Senator Arbib: It has been a pleasure.

CHAIR: My normal modus operandi, I want to take this opportunity on behalf of the committee to sincerely thank Hansard and Broadcasting for your great effort. To the Secretariat: arrivederci, Madam Secretary. we will haunt you for the rest of your days in the Senate to bring you back one day. That concludes today's hearing. The committee now stands adjourned, thank you.

Committee adjourned at 23 : 00