Sports grants scheme gave money to club in Scott Morrison’s electorate that had already built facility

The Government decided to give the Sans Souci Football Club $50,000 for a building that was about to be opened by the state Liberal MP

Sports grants scheme gave money to club in Scott Morrison’s electorate that had already built facility

Exclusive by political reporters Jack Snape and Matthew Doran

Updated 26 FEBRUARY 2020

.VIDEO: A Sport Australia promotional video (ABC News)

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A club in Scott Morrison’s electorate was given $50,000 for a building that had already been built — and the Prime Minister’s office was told about it before he attended a media event at the ground.

Key points:

  • The Government decided to give the Sans Souci Football Club $50,000 for a building that was about to be opened by the state Liberal MP
  • The club was awarded the grant on April 3, 2019, but the local council said the project was officially opened on April 6
  • Guidelines for the program stated projects that had commenced work were ineligible

Although guidelines for the sports grants program stated projects that had commenced works were ineligible, the Sans Souci Football Club facility — located in Mr Morrison’s electorate — was about to be opened by the local state MP when the Sport Minister decided to award it money.

A spokesperson from the Prime Minister’s office (PMO) said the project had been assessed by Sport Australia as eligible and it was the responsibility of the applicants and Sport Australia to ensure projects met the criteria.

Hundreds of pages of emails have been tabled in the Senate providing unprecedented insight into the $100 million pre-election sports grants cash splash and the $150 million Female Facilities and Water Safety Stream program.

They include an email between the Prime Minister’s and then-sport minister Bridget McKenzie’s offices prior to the Sans Souci media event.

“It is worth noting that the club initially missed out on the first two rounds of funding under the Community Sport Infrastructure grant program,” the email stated.

“The club was subsequently funded in round three.

“During the intervening period, the club has fundraised and the project is almost completed.”

Scott Morrison dribbles a soccer ball alongside children on a suburban soccer field

PHOTO: Scott Morrison appeared at a media event in July 2019 to mark the awarding of a grant for a soccer club in his electorate. (Supplied: Facebook)

The club sought $50,000 in the scheme as part of an $80,000 project for a clubroom and awning, according to the leaked spreadsheet.

Georges River Council stated the project was completed by April 6, 2019, and the club contributed $80,000 to the project alongside council and state government funding.

The $50,000 Commonwealth grant was given under round three, for which funding decisions were made on April 3, 2019 — three days before the opening was held.

A post by local state Liberal MP Mark Coure on April 9 marking the “official opening” of the building stated, “Sans Souci Football Club players are thrilled with the final outcome”.

The club declined to comment.

Eligibility not job for PM

Sport Australia provided a list of 1,943 eligible projects to the minister’s office in November 2018.

But after the Government decided to expand the scheme to subsequent rounds, decisions to fund Sans Souci and others under round three weren’t made until April 2019, by which time work on some projects had commenced without Commonwealth funding.

The Prime Minister’s spokesperson said the Sans Souci project was approved for funding by the then-minister for sport based on its assessed eligibility by Sport Australia.

“After Sport Australia assessed the projects and the minister approved them, Sport Australia worked with the recipients to develop their funding agreements,” the spokesperson said.

“It was the responsibility of the applicants and Sport Australia to have ensured all projects met the eligibility criteria.”

Georges River Council and Mr Coure opened the new Claydon Reserve facility on April 6, 2019.

We’re committed to improving the facilities available for our community and on Saturday we officially opened the Claydon Reserve Amenities building!

We’re pleased to be delivering several new amenity buildings, which are in various stages of construction across the Georges River area. Each building includes a referee room, home and away locker room, facilities for men, women, ambulant and parent bathrooms, a storage room and a canteen.

We hope you enjoy using this great new facility!

“The Government expects all organisations that apply for taxpayer funding to comply with the guidelines and eligibility criteria of those programs,” the government spokesperson said.

“The Minister for Sport is not aware of any advice from Sport Australia regarding eligibility of the Sans Souci Football Club.”

A total of 136 emails about the scheme went to and from staff in the Prime Minister’s office between October 2018 and April 2019, according to information released by the Audit Office on Wednesday.

Versions of the spreadsheet used to award grants were circulated four times with the Prime Minister’s office between February and April 2019.

Those communications included “input on which applications should be awarded funding”, according to a statement from the Audit Office.

Female facilities confusion

Heavily redacted emails tabled in the Senate show the scramble happening behind the scenes to figure out the process for managing the $150 million Female Facilities and Water Safety Stream (FFWSS), and specifically which department would manage the funds.

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The project has been heavily criticised by Labor and members of the crossbench for having no formal guidelines or tender process, with some recipients learning through the media they were about to be handed millions of dollars.

The Coalition has defended the project, arguing the funding was outlined in the 2019 federal budget and it allowed the Government to deliver election commitments.

Emails show that as late as September 2019, concerns were being raised the money had still not been transferred from the Infrastructure Department to the Health Department, where responsibility for sporting projects lies.

“The pools are not yet formally finalised as coming to us,” a government official wrote to another on August 8, 2019.

“If you are informing people that they are coming to us (which is expected) do you mind also saying it’s in progress to that outcome to give us half a chance to respond — otherwise I’m going to get bombarded and have no formal information or directive to be able to manage these requests.”

The ABC understands that among those enquiring about the program were major sporting organisations.

Emails dated in July include reference to lists of projects that “do not include those identified previously by PMO to be delivered out of the pools and female change rooms funding”.

The marginal Coalition electorates of Corangamite in Victoria and Pearce in WA received $60 million alone, or 40 per cent of the entire funding pool, from the project announced by the Prime Minister in March 2019.

The bundle of emails were presented to the Senate after the Upper House ordered the Federal Government to produce correspondence relating to the program.

The Senate inquiry hearing into the original $100 million sport grant scheme continues on Thursday when Sport Australia will appear.

A submission to the inquiry from Gippsland Ranges Roller Derby Inc, whose application was rated 98 out of 100 by Sport Australia but was not funded, stated: “We believe there is a significant trust deficit that needs to be remedied.”

Contact Jack Snape