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Thursday, 25 November 1993
Page: 3823

Senator TIERNEY (12.15 a.m.) —I rise to speak briefly during the adjournment debate to raise a very serious matter concerning what has become known as the sports rort affair. I want particularly to emphasise its impact on my own area in the Hunter Valley. The Senate is aware that the Auditor-General has found very serious problems with the community cultural, recreation and sporting facilities program and its administration by the Minister for the Environment, Sport and Territories, Mrs Ros Kelly.

  Today in the House of Representatives the minister was questioned about the program, and one grant in particular to the Eastern Suburbs Maitland Cricket Club. Maitland is my home area in the Hunter and, therefore, the questions asked of the minister are of great concern to me. I believe they were of great concern also to the people in the electorate of Patterson which, before the last federal election, was the most marginal seat in Australia.

  Today in the House of Representatives the Minister for the Environment, Sport and Territories was questioned by the shadow minister for youth sport and recreation, Mr Ronaldson, on the disgraceful sports rort affair and the granting of $49,000 to the Eastern Suburbs Maitland Cricket Club. Mr Ronaldson asked the minister whether she knew or approved of a grant to a club that had no ground, for which no development or building application had been lodged, and whose paddock that was being used by the club as a practice ground was near an old gasworks and is now being checked out by the Environment Protection Authority for possible contamination.

  The minister was also asked about the role of a member of the club, Mr Tony Keating, the endorsed state Labor candidate for Maitland and now a staff member of Mr Bob Horne, the member for Patterson. The minister totally failed to answer the very important questions Mr Ronaldson was raising. The sum of $49,000 is a lot of money to be promised to an organisation without proper controls to ensure that the money is well spent. There are many other genuine community projects in our area that could have done with that money as well.

  The disgrace is that the whole community cultural, recreational and sporting facilities program is worth $30 million and the Labor government has used it in the most outrageous pork-barrelling exercise in marginal seats that we have ever seen in this country. The money was meant to last until at least 1994 and Mrs Kelly gave almost all of it away to marginal Labor seats in the few months leading up to the last federal election. The average grant given to a marginal Labor seat was exactly double the average given to a marginal coalition seat before the election.

  In a condemning report the Auditor-General has stated that the minister kept inadequate documentation on the reasons for her decisions to award the grants. The Auditor-General said:

. . . claims that decisions on the allocation of grants were politically motivated could not be put to rest.

That is the key point on page vii. Some very serious questions have been raised about the propriety of the ALP, including pork-barrelling in Patterson and the involvement of local ALP members. Mrs Kelly has said that she will check the details of the questions raised. I hope she does exactly that and accepts the responsibility for her actions and those of her co-conspirators in the ALP.

  Mrs Kelly's continued refusal to date to answer these serious questions can only lead to the conclusion that the allocations of the grants were politically motivated. The Auditor-General has raised many criticisms of the program and has been forced to leave many questions unanswered because of the lack of accountability and the lack of documentation by the minister. The minister should produce the evidence that she has not been involved in this outrageous pork-barrelling exercise or she should accept the consequences of her actions and resign.

  The question of ministerial responsibility was one that came up recently before the Senate Select Committee on Pay Television Tendering, of which I was deputy chair. We looked at this whole question of ministerial responsibility. After considering Senator Collins' case, I am sure that what we found out about ministerial responsibility and why ministers should resign is certainly very much applicable to Mrs Kelly.

  Often a minister is required to resign because the department does something wrong and the minister remains ignorant of these actions. Kellygate is much worse because the minister has done something wrong and the department seems not to have known about it. This is a far worse offence and she should do the proper thing and resign.