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Tuesday, 31 May 1994
Page: 941

Senator MICHAEL BAUME (4.13 p.m.) —by leave—I move:

  That the Senate take note of the document.

If one were to get angry every time examples of gross deception and dishonesty by this government were presented to this Senate then one would be in a state of permanent apoplexy. I try to avoid that and just let it go over my shoulder. This one, I am afraid, I cannot let go. I am genuinely angry about this matter. This is a disgrace. It reveals the government's participation in a disgrace, in a blatant deception of the people of Australia, of gross dishonesty and, of course, in the purchase of votes which, in many people's view, is bordering on illegality.

  We have here this governmental response to the Auditor-General's revelations about the disgraceful nature of this scheme—the sports rorts—his endorsements, basically, with some reservations, of the revelations that I have certainly been making over the last four years, which Senator Campbell raised at Senate estimates, I think in about 1990—

Senator Campbell —September 11, 1990.

Senator MICHAEL BAUME —It was back in 1990 when he dealt with Western Australia specifically. But, worse than that, in the run-up to the last election, following many years of continual complaint, I had included as part of the opposition's approach to the election a clear statement that this program was so dishonest, so blatantly crooked, so disgraceful that it would not feature in a coalition government, that we would cancel this program, we would end it, we would finish it off because it was not a sports program, it was a vote-buying shonk. It was the illegitimate creature of former Senator Richardson, I suppose one could say, brought into the world in a more developed state by Mrs Kelly, but that might involve some curious analogies. But we could say this: if Mrs Kelly was the monkey then former Senator Richardson was certainly the organ-grinder—a phrase which could have some curious connotations at the moment.

  I am particularly angry about the fact that my proposal, as shadow minister for sport, to get rid of this dishonest program—subsequently proved to be dishonest—was attacked violently by the people opposite who, as a result of this deception among many other deceptions, bought their way back into office.

  Having moved that the Senate take note of this document, I note one particular part of it especially and that is the quote in the government response, which states:

The government will not be extending the present program beyond 30 June 1995, nor will it be introducing a new program in the foreseeable future.

It goes on to explain why. It says that in the immediate future the government will be concentrating on the human aspects of sport, on achievement and attainment of personal goals by athletes rather than bricks and mortar.

  I am wondering who wrote this stuff. Did he or she just take it out of my pre-election sports statement? This is exactly what I wanted to do. I wanted to make certain that government money went to sportspeople, not to political stunts like this one. Is it not amazing? After the election, after it had done its work, this shonky scheme has been dropped by this government because even it could not stand the smell of the sports rorts still hanging around its neck. In fact, as former Senator Walsh pointed out, many of these vote purchasing schemes have more negatives than positives.

  The unfortunate thing is, of course, that the positives for this government took place before the election and the negatives after it. What a shame that that happened because on this side of the chamber, we—and certainly me in particular—were all complaining about this project, pointing out its dishonesty, long before the election. But, I am afraid, the press gallery could not have cared less—we could not get a line. It was fortunate that the Auditor-General, who attended and continues to attend Senate estimates meetings, thank heavens, became aware of this issue, the dishonest nature of these grants and the deceptions by the ministers involved when they were pretending that guidelines were being met when they were not. It was only because the Auditor-General picked up this ball, as his responsibility, and ran with it that it became an issue that attracted the press gallery and therefore the people of Australia.

  The consequences were that the minister who had misled the parliament on this matter `resigned'. I can remember the document that Mrs Kelly put out before the last election attacking me, my policy and the statements that I had put out—the very sound and sensible document showing how sport would benefit under a coalition government—saying it was a disgrace that we were taking money away from sport. It is funny, I have not heard Mrs Kelly say anything about the fact that the government will not be extending the present program, that it is killing it off.

  I wonder why, before the last election, Mrs Kelly found any suggestion that we would cut it off to be so disgraceful, but when her own government ends it, there is nothing wrong. The silent Mrs Kelly, who was so voluble before the election, but who has been utterly silent after it now that this shonky project that she maladministered has been cut off: we do not hear any complaint from her.

  One gets accustomed to the sorts of deception and dishonesty that took place on behalf of this government in the run up to the last election. We all know that the anti-GST campaign was probably the most dishonest that any of us have struck. But I think that many sports people have forgotten the level of dishonesty in a government which protested about ending a program when we proposed it before the election, and then did what we proposed after the election. I am surprised that the government did not find some greater excuse for doing so, but it probably assumed that it could lie its way out of this one, as it has lied its way out of other issues. It did not even show a flicker of embarrassment, but I suppose it should not because it has become so expert at misleading the Australian people.

  Let us remember exactly what this report of the Auditor-General, to which the government has responded, is all about. Before doing that, I point out that this shonky and dishonest program that the government has run on and off since 1988 was to have been evaluated, according to the government's response, before the government would consider its possible continuation. The response says:

Given that the Program is not to be extended or a similar program introduced in the foreseeable future, and the Program has been thoroughly scrutinised by the Auditor-General, it is not now intended to undertake a further evaluation of the Program.

I will bet it is not. The last thing this government would want would be any kind of thorough evaluation of this program. We know it is a shonky program. The Auditor-General has certainly established that in the making of the grants there was behaviour which was a disgrace in the sense there was a lack of documentation and an openness to fraud, but we do not know about the implementation of the program. The Auditor-General has not reported on the implementation of the program because the program has not finished being implemented. In fact, it is being rolled over again until the end of the next financial year.

  That leads me to the next disgraceful and dishonest element of this shonky dishonest deal. Every year the government would put out in its budget a statement, `This is the wonderful, huge total we are going to spend on sport this year.' It would include multi-millions under this program. Come the end of the year, that money would not have been spent. So it would go onto the next budget. And, having falsely claimed it was going to spend $80-odd million, it would spend $6 million less—it would spend, say, $74 million, and these are not precise figures but just an indication. The following year the government would get up and say, `Whacko. This year we are going to increase our spending to $80 million.' It would include again in its dishonest polemic the same money being rolled over and over and over; the same money claimed to have been spent on sport but not being spent that year at all being pushed forward to other years.

  We see the same thing this year. I think something like $6 1/2 million which was supposed to have been spent in the 1993-94 financial year will now be spent in 1994-95. In this budget the government is claiming it is going to spend $13 1/2 million under this project, except that it is double claiming $6 1/2 million that should have been spent in the current year to June. It is dishonesty upon dishonesty, shonk upon shonk.

  I am glad that the Auditor-General's report has effectively forced the government into cancelling this disgraceful program that all ministers of this government embraced for years as something they saw no problem with or objected to—at least, not outside—and which they used as a weapon to beat us over the head with when we were honest before the last election. All ministers in this government stand condemned for their silence on this disgraceful matter. It was brought to their attention often enough in this chamber, going back to 1990. They knew it perfectly well.

  I often wonder whether ex-Senator Richardson's earlier than anticipated retirement from this chamber had anything to do with the fact that we gave him fair notice that we were going to pursue every one of the disgraceful grants that took place when he was the minister. Although, I must say that he was a little more clever about it than Mrs Kelly. In his case he did not ask the department to categorise them and to put them in some order of priority. He did nothing like that.

  I remember his response in a Senate estimates committee when I asked him what happened about notifying these things, and what role did the department play. His response was simple, direct and politically astute. He said, `If a grant is awarded I write the letter to them. If a grant request is knocked back then the department writes them, and that is the role of the department.' That means that ex-Senator Richardson would not be capable of falling into the ridiculous situation that Mrs Kelly fell into where she denied in the parliament that various grants had not filled the requirements of the grant conditions. She denied, for example, that there had been late grants. Obviously, if ministers are running everything themselves and do not have the department participating, they can get away with what they like and no-one would know.

  Mrs Kelly, having involved the department, then left herself open to attack when she misled the parliament about the propriety or not and the status of various applications. Nonetheless, it was clear to ex-Senator Richardson that he was going to face months of non-stop flack over quite proper criticism of his sports rorts deal. The whole concept of federal involvement in facilities began under Mr John Brown, the minister for having a good time, and pigs. Mr John Brown decided that it would be a good idea, and many people supported this concept, if large national projects were funded by the national government—projects which would increase the capacity in Australia for international performance; for example, a swimming pool in Hobart which I know is close to Senator Calvert's heart but has not been funded.

Senator Calvert —I am going to follow on about that.

Senator MICHAEL BAUME —Or something that was closer to Mr Brown's heart, the Parramatta football stadium which he suddenly discovered was a matter of national importance. No doubt the Parramatta Football Club recognises that it is a matter of national significance that it is coming bottom of the Sydney league ladder at the moment. Here we have a situation where the initial program had some kind of basis of dishonesty. Even if Mr Brown used it as a local political rort, nonetheless, that facility is very useful. As a strong soccer supporter, I have to say it is occasionally used by soccer teams and therefore cannot be all bad. But let us remember how this whole concept degenerated under this vote buying crooked scheme introduced by this government.

  This is a crooked scheme which the current minister—and I have to commend him for it—has recognised should not proceed. I acknowledge his recognition of the good sense in the coalition's policy before the last election in that the government:

will be concentrating on the human aspects of sport—on achievement and attainment of personal goals by athletes—rather than bricks and mortar.   Let us go back to what the Auditor-General said to which this is a response. He stated:

ANAO noted some anomalies in the approval of grants—

worth just under $30 million—

by the Minister but was unable to resolve them because the reasons for decisions were not adequately documented. For the same reason claims that decisions on the allocation of grants were politically motivated could not be put to rest.

The Auditor-General could not put to rest the assertions that I had made that this was a politically motivated, crooked deal. He continues:

ANAO considers that it is in the interest of a Minister to document the reasons for individual decisions to allay such allegations and to provide accountability for decisions . . . ANAO found that the Department's administration of the program was weak:

.insufficient information was sent to the Minister to allow the Minister to make informed decisions

.the objectives of the program were unclear

.the procedures for processing applications were poor. Details on applications were not checked and necessary documentation was not followed up where it was missing

.documentation supporting the categorisation process was inadequate

.there is a need for greater consultation with other interested bodies, e.g. State and local governments

.projects were not monitored systematically to ensure completion or achievement of program objectives

.certain administrative procedures left the program open to fraud and the program fraud control plan was out of date, and

.there is poor performance information.

As a result ANAO is not able to report that the program is an efficient and effective use of public money.

Hear, hear! We told this government that, and we have been telling it that for years.

  Let us get a feeling of the size of it. This program had its origins in the community cultural, recreational and sporting facilities program approved in the 1988-89 budget when the government agreed to provide $13 million over three years. In the 1991-92 budget the government extended it for a further three years at a cost of $30 million. Then in November 1992, when it found that it could not spend its money under the shonky One Nation statement, it reallocated this money, and it reallocated just under $19 million into this program. That is something like $62 million that has been spent on this vote buying program since 1988-89. In fact, in something like three years $62 million was allocated to this vote buying shonk of a program. The Auditor-General states:

The purpose of the original program was to assist State and local government authorities to make up the backlog in the provision of basic sporting and recreational facilities.

Yet we find in this report the Auditor-General complaining that there had not been adequate cooperation, discussion and agreement with local government bodies. It is just incredible.   I will not go over the detail because it has been gone over often enough. We know that a bigger proportion of those grant applications which did not meet the criteria were granted approval than were those that met the top grade of criteria and, of course, the key criteria to this government was what electorate the application was in.

  Fortunately, a great number of the recommendations put up by the Auditor-General have been accepted by the government, but it seems to have knocked back the proposal that the number of applications received should be limited and restricted to larger projects. In other words, going back to the John Brown concept and saying that it is a matter for government decision. As the government has decided not to proceed with this program anyway, I suppose we can say that it does not really matter.

  What does matter is that the Auditor-General notes:

The findings of a number of official inquiries in recent years, in particular, the Fitzgerald inquiry in Queensland, the WA Inc Royal Commission in Western Australia and the State Bank inquiry in South Australia point to the risks to the public interest of a system of government where there is no effective accountability of those trusted with public power.

They are terribly important words. They underline the need for there to be a powerful and effective Auditor-General, because it is the Auditor-General who, in this case, has pointed publicly and effectively to the fact that there was no effective accountability of those trusted with public power, and those people misused their status, their power and the public purse to buy votes in this situation. The Auditor-General goes on:

One of the key principles underlying Australian constitutional arrangements is that the institutions and agencies of government and officials (elected and non-elected) exist to serve the interests of the public. If public confidence in Government is to be maintained public officials—who act in trust on behalf of all citizens—must ensure that their actions and decisions, however unintentionally, do nothing to allow any suspicion that official power and position is being used for self-interested or partisan purposes.

Public power and public resources are delegated to governments which are expected to act in the national interest. The use of public resources contributed by force of law, not voluntarily, by taxpayers requires particular care in ensuring that defensible conduct can be demonstrated.

In passing he also notes:

Without proper records the program will always be susceptible to allegations of impropriety.

That important matter that there must be effective accountability underlines the fact that this chamber must not allow the Keating government to emasculate the Auditor-General, to deprive him of the resources that would enable him to keep pointing out disgraceful conduct like this lack of proper accountability and to leave a situation where he says he cannot disprove the proposition that this was a political stunt, and a disgraceful one at that. I commend the Auditor-General once again. I am glad the government has responded by accepting at least the bulk of the Auditor-General's recommendations. I think it ought to accept them all.

  I finish by saying what a shame it is that the government government's decision—or admission as it is now really—is that this program is to end. What a shame that decision was not announced before the last election. What a shame the government did not have the integrity to front up to the Australian people and say that it would not be continued. What a shame the government did not have the guts to say that in the foreseeable future there would be no such program. What a shonky lot. What a disgraceful group of people who denied the Australian people the right to make a proper judgment on them by delaying until now the statement that this program, which is dishonest to the poor and which they defended to the hilt, was not going to proceed once they had conned the Australian people into voting for them.