Claims of sports grants pork-barreling in marginal seats before the 2019 federal election have sparked indignant and angry responses from government MPs in those seats.
Their angry denials follow a scathing Australian National Audit Office report showing that of the $100 million Sports Grants scheme, almost half the approved projects went to seats critical to the government’s reelection hopes.
The Bug understands the Sports Australia grants included one of $5000 to the Philippines BarGirl Sporting Rooters Club of Mackay in Queensland.
A club spokesperson said the money went towards the purchase of quality blow-up neck pillows to make members’ flights to Manila more comfortable.
“No-one wants to start a suck and fuck tour of the Philippines in a rundown and exhausted state,” he explained.
Further north, the Bowen Lapband Surgery Recovery Fitness Club received $250,000 to make their exercise path near Bowen Base Hospital more walking-frame friendly.
Mackay and Bowen are both in the electorate of Dawson and member George Christensen told The Bug that while he had never heard of either sports club he was confident their funding was “appropriate, timely, warranted, and well within the guidelines”.
“I have quite a large electorate which means there were a sizeable number of applications for Sports Australia funding within its boundaries and I wouldn’t know many of them even if i visited the electorate more often,” Mr Christensen said.
“My deliberate hands-off policy means I had no input whatsoever into the selection of successful applicants.
“Besides, I was overseas when most of the decisions were taken any way,” he added.
Although she was not even in Parliament as the time, the Member in Exile for the South Australian electorate of Mayo, Lady Georgina Downer, presented a number of the Sports Australia cheques to sporting bodies in or near the electorate leading up to and during the 2019 campaign.
Her media stunts with huge novelty cheques are said to have been the catalyst for the federal Opposition’s forensic examination of the whole sports grant process.
Lady Downer was photographed (right) handing over one of the “cheques” to the Yankalilla Bowls Club to update and reframe their many lovely portraits of Queen Elizabeth the Second.
Another photo op had her handing over a $1 million grant to design and build international-quality croquet lawns and two-storey, architect-designed clubhouse in the grounds of Pout House in the nearby Adelaide Hills.
But yesterday Lady Downer strenuously denied any wrongdoing as the member in exile and threatened legal action against anyone who suggested any impropriety on her part.
“I remain frightfully upset that anyone could have thought the cheques were from me and or the Liberal Party even though that’s what they said,” Lady Downer sniffed.
And the Minister who oversaw the program as sports minister in the last term, Deputy Nationals leader Bridget McKenzie has also strongly defended where the money went.
“A classic example was the ‘totally appropriate’ funding that went to the Farrer electorate of my colleague Sussan Ley, now the environment minister.
“The much-needed $50,000 in funding went straight to the Hay Boatracers and Beerscullers Liberal Club to improve their club facilities, especially the refrigeration unit in their historic ‘Flinders’ coldroom.
“This was a totally acceptable request for funding considering the club is on the very spot where Captain Matthew Flinders deliberately beached his tinnie to make much-needed repairs during his circumnavigation of Tasmania back in 1492.
“My decision had absolutely nothing to do with the fact that Sussan at the time faced a real threat from a well-known independent and we didn’t now then how effective our death-tax, car-tax, property-tax, pensioner/retiree tax, tax-tax scare campaigns against Labor would turn out to be.”