“Community organisations, clubs and groups have lost out because it appears public funds were used for political gain”
Slater and Gordon is investigating a class action over the federal government’s “sports rorts” scandal.
In a scathing report released Wednesday, the Australian National Audit Office said that The Coalition awarded tens of millions in sports grants in favour of marginal seats prior to the last elections.
In the report by Auditor-General Grant Hehir, the office of Senator Bridget McKenzie, Nationals deputy leader and former sports minister, was said to have overruled recommendations by the former Australian Sports Commission board (now Sport Australia) in distributing support from the $100m program.
Because of the minister’s intervention, grants favoured a high proportion of clubs that did not score highly on Sport Australia’s assessments to be eligible for funding, Slater and Gordon said. In the context of a federal election campaign, the grants disproportionately benefited clubs in marginal and “targeted” seats, the firm said.
“Every dollar that went to a club whose application should have been unsuccessful is a dollar that didn’t end up with a club that Sport Australia had identified and recommended for funding in the course of proper processes,” said Andrew Baker, who leads the Slater and Gordon class action practice group. “These community organisations, clubs and groups have lost out because it appears public funds were used for political gain.”
Auditors said that $41m was granted to projects in 47 marginal seats.
“After a thorough investigation, the Australian National Audit Office has stated that there was no legal authority evident to it which allowed the Minister to approve the grants, rather than Sport Australia,” Baker said. “This raises serious questions about the lawfulness of the conduct involved.”
Slater and Gordon said that clubs worthy of funding but missed out may have rights to seek legal remedies.