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Tuesday, 31 May 1994
Page: 945

Senator FAULKNER (Minister for the Environment, Sport and Territories) (4.39 p.m.) —The government's response to the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Environment, Recreation and the Arts review of a report of an efficiency audit by the Auditor-General of the community cultural, recreational and sporting facilities program has now been tabled. I think it is fair to say that the standing committee, in its recommendations and deliberations, decided that it believed there was little need to add to the Auditor-General's recommendations. It did, of course, come forward with five measures `to ensure that in the future the program can be adequately monitored by the Parliament.'

  If the government were to introduce a new program of assistance for sporting facilities, these measures would be taken into account along with the Auditor-General's best practice guide for the administration of grants. However, as Senator Baume pointed out in his contribution, I have announced that the facilities program will not be extended; the program is finished.

  The government will be refocusing its initiatives, as we heard the senator say, on the human aspects of sport and taking the emphasis away from bricks and mortar. That was reinforced with the $135 million to be provided over the next six years to prepare Australian athletes for both the Atlanta and Sydney olympic games. That is real evidence of the government's commitment to those who are participating in sport.

  Notwithstanding this change in emphasis, the current program will continue during 1994-95 when the remaining projects that have been funded will be finalised. Claims against existing grants must be lodged with my department by 20 May 1995. I can say that all grant recipients have been advised of this by the department. They all know of this requirement that there will be no payments processed after that date. I will ensure that that message is reinforced from time to time by correspondence from my department.

  I can assure the Senate that the scheme will be very properly administered over this period of time. The Auditor-General's recommendations, which impact on the current program, have already been implemented. It is probably important, given the rather unkind comments—

Senator Parer —Only because you got caught with your hand in the till.

Senator FAULKNER —I was not the minister, and the senator knows it.

Senator Panizza —It doesn't make it any more savoury because you weren't the minister, does it? It did happen.

Senator FAULKNER —I thank the senator for that. I think it is reasonable to place these two reports in context. The government provided some $60 million for the development of community facilities through the sports portfolio in the period since 1988-89. In that time, over 1,400 projects have been assisted and they are projects that otherwise would not have gone ahead. Of the 1,064 projects approved in rounds three and four of the program, I have been advised by my department that more than 60 per cent have already received their final payment.

  The Senate ought to be aware that these projects represent facilities that have been built right around this country in local communities and they are facilities that are providing opportunities for ordinary Australians to participate in recreational activities of their own choosing.

Senator Parer —You are not trying to justify the white board, are you?

Senator FAULKNER —No-one has questioned the worth of the program.

Senator Parer —Come on.

Senator FAULKNER —There has obviously been criticism of the administration of the program but no-one has criticised the worth of the program. Given the typically intemperate and unreasonable comments of Senator Baume, even though I did not drag a crystal ball into the chamber, I predict there will be some more intemperate and unreasonable comments made by other senators from the coalition side who might contribute to this debate. But there has never been a finding of impropriety or fraudulent activity in relation to this scheme.

  I can say that all reasonable steps have been taken by the government, and by me as the new minister responsible for sport, to improve the administration of this program. I have ensured that the program as it now stands is efficiently and effectively administered. There is no doubt that the recommendations of the Auditor-General have been promptly and fully implemented by the government. I believe that no fair-minded senator can argue to the contrary.

  I look forward as the minister to what I think is going to be a tremendous opportunity for Australian sport as we give new focus to those people who will be using these and other sporting facilities in the lead-up to the Olympic Games in the year 2000, as the government puts its money where its mouth is in relation to our athlete preparation program for the Olympic Games and gives the appropriate emphasis that is due to those participating in sport and recreational activities in this country, not only the elite athletes but also young Australians who are involved in sport and recreation activities, disabled athletes and all those who stand to benefit from the tremendous commitment that the government has made to sport, not only in this budget with our $135 million contribution over six years for the athlete preparation program, but also ever since this government has been in office.

  The miserable performance of the opposition when it was in government is highlighted by the fact of the enormous contribution currently made in the federal budget, well in excess of $150 million, including $50 million over the next three years for facilities in Sydney for the Olympic Games. That amount of money, well in excess of $150 million, compares with the contribution of these mean-minded individuals on the other side of the chamber. Their last effort in the last year of a coalition government was—wait for it—$14.5 million.

Senator Calvert —What is it worth in dollars today?

  Let me say to Senator Campbell that that was his party's last effort. Senator Campbell has all my commiserations as he struggles, as the new shadow minister for sport, to justify the performance of his party when it was in government. That surely shows, even to Senator Campbell, the contempt his party showed for Australian sport. However, I wish him well in the task of turning that attitude around. Senator Campbell may even do something that Senator Baume and predecessors attempted to achieve over the past decade or so, and that is to produce an opposition policy on sport and recreation. That is very doubtful, but I look forward in the forthcoming months to Senator Campbell's justification for his own miserable, mean-minded and inadequate record.

Senator Campbell —Be fair. I wasn't around then.

Senator FAULKNER —I am being very fair. Indeed, I am giving an extremely fair analysis of the performance of Senator Campbell's party on the subject of sport. That policy was hopeless and inadequate. Indeed, it was so disorganised that at no time could his party get pen to paper and draw up a sports policy. Compared to many of his colleagues, Senator Campbell's task will be pretty easy. At least by comparison with his colleagues, Senator Campbell probably will be a shining light. Compared to the performance of the present government, that of the opposition stinks.