No ‘sports rorts’ in my electorate
Friday, 24th January, 2020
By Callum Marshall
Federal MP Mark Coulton has defended his under-fire Nationals party colleague Bridget McKenzie over the “sports rorts” affair and said he’s confident there’s nothing wrong with grants handed out in his electorate.
Last week, the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) released a scathing report of the federal government’s $100m community sports grant program, saying it was biased towards marginal seats before the 2019 federal election.
Seventy-three per cent of the projects awarded grant funding under sports minister McKenzie were not recommended by Sport Australia.
On Wednesday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison referred the matters for investigation to his department on the same day it was revealed that Ms McKenzie had awarded $36,000 to a clay shooting club without publicly declaring she was a member of it.
Speaking about the matters on Wednesday, Mr Coulton said the idea that she was a regular member of the club was wrong.
“Bridget was given a temporary membership on a day that she visited,” he said.
“The idea that it was actually her club that she was a regular member of it is incorrect.
“Anyone who knows anything at all about Bridget McKenzie know she’s a very keen target shooter.
“I’ve been shooting with her in Gunnedah at the target club there, so that’s no secret.
“The idea that there was some sort of a benefit given to a club that she was a member of is, quite frankly, false.”
Mr Coulton was also critical of Sport Australia - the agency which assesses how well each project meets the program’s criteria - and the assessments they had made.
“I suspect they probably don’t see the advantage in putting sporting grants into small communities,” he said.
“If we go through the grants that came to the Parkes electorate - and I can say we’re not identified as a marginal seat - Broken Hill Basketball Association received $174,970 to upgrade solar lighting and cooling in the court here.
“I don’t think anyone in Broken Hill would’ve thought that that was an inappropriate use of money.
“Rawsonville Pony Club, which is not even a village, it’s a rural area west of Dubbo, they got money to upgrade their grounds.
“Mungindi, a small town on the Queensland border, got a $450,000 to upgrade their minor league field.
“I think that putting these grants into small country towns has been a good thing.
“If we left it up to peak sporting bodies to choose these things, the ones that have been critical of what Bridget McKenzie has done, then there would be no money coming to towns that I represent.”
Mr Coulton said the issue was part of the political ‘Killing Season’ and that he had confidence in Ms McKenzie as a minister.
“I think that we’re in what’s known as the ‘Killing Season’ over Christmas in Canberra where we’re not sitting for a while,” he said,
“I think a senate inquiry that will probably be called will find that there’s been no impropriety in this.
“I’m very confident in Bridget as a minister but I can’t speak for the other areas in and around Australia.
“I’m not defending every grant because I don’t know.
“But what I can tell you is the grants are, in my electorate, Broken Hill, Rawsonville, Dubbo, Paramount Tennis Club, Breeza Tennis Club and Mungindi were the recipients and they would not have been able to source those funds anywhere else.”
Mr Coulton said the sports minister had actually improved recommendations for the third round of funding to help clubs in Labor-held areas, disputing widespread reports that marginal Coalition and other closely-contested seats were the main beneficiaries.
“If you just listen to the national news you would think that all these went to marginal seats along the coast that were in play,” he said.
“When Bridget got involved she actually improved the recommendations from 27 per cent to, I think, 36 per cent in those round numbers that actually increased the number that went to Labor-held seats.
“The Audit office can sort that out.”