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Tuesday, 23 November 1993
Page: 3487

Senator SHORT (10.37 p.m.) —I want to say a few things about the failure today of the Senate to accept the coalition's motion to refer to the relevant Senate estimates committee the consideration of the government's handling—and, in particular, the actions of the Minister for the Environment, Sport and Territories, Mrs Kelly—of the allocation of grants to sporting associations in Australia in what was, quite obviously, one of the most blatant pork-barrelling attempts to bribe the electorate, particularly in marginal electorates, prior to the last election.

  Yesterday in the House of Representatives, Mrs Kelly attacked the messenger, namely, the Auditor-General, for the problems that seem to have arisen for her in this area. She should be open and honest for a change. She should be prepared to defend her decisions with respect to these grants and to make available to both chambers of this parliament the background material to support and justify the grants that she has made. Obviously, she is not going to do that. It will be dragged out of her like pulling teeth. The only implication that one can draw from that is that her reluctance is due to the fact that those grants have been made for the most blatant political reasons. They were not based on the needs of the organisations concerned but on the then desperate political needs of the Labor Party to try to bribe its way back into government at the election earlier this year using taxpayers' money.

  This course of action has become all too common in this country in the last 10 years. We now have a government which seems unable to differentiate between the national interest and the interest of its own party political base. In most other countries that is what is known as political corruption. There is no less a reason for calling it that in Australia.

  Tonight I want to read into the record some of the grants and the implications of those grants for my own state of Victoria. What the Auditor-General found in his analysis, as we saw in his report which was tabled last week, was that on average throughout Australia seats held by the Labor Party received twice as much funding in the form of cultural and sporting grants as those held by the coalition. In my own state of Victoria the average grant was $57,000. The average grant to each electorate was $211,000 and the average number of grants per electorate was 3.7.

  Despite the fact that the Labor Party held only 37 per cent of the total number of federal House of Representatives seats for Victoria prior to the last election, Labor electorates received half the total value of the grants and 55 per cent of the number of the grants. It is not just the dollar amounts of the grants in terms of the total per electorate that are important; the number of such grants is also very important. Of course, that will vary according to the size of the electorate, but a lot of smaller grants scattered throughout an electorate can be an enormous political bribe. That is what happened in many of the seats in Victoria in the months leading up to the last election.

  The distribution of grants is even more interesting. In my own state of Victoria, only four safe Labor electorates received less than the average value, 16 coalition electorates received less than the average value, and only four coalition held seats received more than three grants. It is in respect of grants distribution that Mrs Kelly's documents should be made public for scrutiny. These are some of the essential figures for which she has not been prepared to provide the information as to the basis for her decisions.

  Let us look at the marginal seats held by Labor in Victoria. The seat of Melbourne Ports received five grants, with a total of $555,000. Jagajaga received the equivalent of 5 1/2 grants, with a total of $250,000. Hotham, the then marginal seat held by Simon Crean, the aspirant for the leadership if Paul Keating does not pull his socks up—and Simon Crean is hot on his heels—received six grants, with a total of $398,000. The seat that Gordon Scholes was vacating, the seat of Corio, received eight grants, with a total of $472,000. Corio was a relatively marginal seat, particularly with Mr Scholes retiring, and it was one that the Liberal Party had hoped to have a very good run in. I know it was regarded by Labor as a difficult seat.

  The seat of Holt received 4 1/2 grants, with a total of $252,000. As I said, the average grant to an electorate in Victoria was $211,000, so all the ones that I have mentioned to date have been well above average. Holt was no exception. The seat of Burke, held by Neil O'Keefe on a marginal basis prior to the last election, received a record for Victoria of 10 separate grants, to be scattered like confetti around the electorate at a cost to taxpayers of $259,000. All of those were well above average.

  Let us now look at the seats that were held marginally by the Liberal Party—seats that Labor desperately needed to win at the election. The seat of Corinella had received 4 1/2 grants, with a total of $448,000. The seat of Bendigo received five grants, at a total cost outlay to taxpayers of $414,000. The seat of McEwen received 7 1/2 grants, at a total outlay of $260,000. The seat of Ballarat received only two grants, but one of them was an enormous grant of a quarter of a million dollars. The total for the two grants was $262,000. As I say, all of those are also well above the average distribution, in dollar terms, of grants throughout my state.

  The nature of that funding obviously raises very serious questions about the minister's propriety in this affair. I will not go over that again tonight. We will hear a lot more of it in the future, as we have heard in the last couple of days. We have a situation in which taxpayer funded programs are being used, in effect, as Labor slush funds for buying votes in the most blatant political way. I think that, as the information about these grants and others comes to be more widely known throughout the community, the community will see these grants for what they are. We cannot describe them in any other way than as a blatant bribe and a blatant misuse of taxpayers' money.

  It is not by any means the first area in which this government has employed that same program. In my own portfolio area we have seen it par excellence in terms of grants to ethnic communities. Last year there were 111 ethnic community grants made in Victoria. Of those, something like 38 were made within the central city area of Melbourne—at least, that is where the headquarters of the organisations were based. If we exclude those, there were 73 grants made to other electorates. Of those, only 12 1/2 grants were made to coalition held seats. We should bear in mind that prior to the last election the coalition held something like 60-plus per cent of the total seats. So we had 60-plus per cent of the total seats and 12 1/2 of the 73 grants made to coalition held seats. Those 12 1/2 grants were worth only $533,695—only 11.5 per cent of the total grants made in Victoria to ethnic communities last year of $4.65 million.

  No-one will forget the scandalous situation immediately prior to the 1990 election in which the cabinet decided, I think just two days before the 1990 election, on an additional $5 million of grants to ethnic community associations. Again, the distribution of that, which was kept secret until months after the election, was made in the most blatant vote buying—vote rigging, one could say—way.

Senator Tambling —You would think they would take a few lessons from the Italian example and what is going on in the Italian government at the moment. It is the same proportion and same scandal.

Senator SHORT —Yes, and the Italian electorate has in many ways voted accordingly. So we have had the situation now with cultural and sporting grants, with the ethnic community grants and with the local capital works program which, before the last election, was one of the supposed key capital works programs that the then government undertook to get the economy moving, so it argued. Yet it turned out to be simply another example of a deliberate vote-buying exercise where grants were made to councils. At least they had a public set of guidelines, but those have been debated and the errors of their ways have been pointed out in detail recently and will be again. They were made in marginal and Labor seats.

  Overall, that local capital works program directed twice the value of grants to Labor electorates as it did to coalition ones, despite the fact that the Labor Party held only 37 per cent of the total number of seats. In Victoria, my own state, grants to coalition electorates were concentrated in key Liberal marginal seats that Labor hoped to win back. Seats such as McEwen, Dunkley, Corinella, Ballarat and Bendigo were the main recipients of grants made to coalition electorates.

  This is yet another example of a blatant misuse of public funds. This Labor government seems to regard taxpayers' money not as funds to be used in the overall national interest and in accordance with national interest criteria, but as funds to be used in ways that will most advantage the Labor Party in a narrow political sense without any regard at all to whether that coincides with the national interest.

  As I said earlier—I conclude on this note—there can be no worse political corruption in any country than when the governing party loses the power to distinguish between what is in the public interest and what is in the interest of its own narrow party political base. We now have a large number of examples—I am sure we will see more—to demonstrate to the Australian people beyond any doubt at all that this government has lost the ability to distinguish between those two fundamental aspects. As a result of that, we are seeing a political corruption, using taxpayers' money, that I think is unparalleled, certainly in my lifetime and, I would imagine, in the lifetime of most Australians.

  Question resolved in the affirmative.

Senate adjourned at 10.53 p.m.