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Estimates Reply – Street

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Tuesday, 14 June 2022

Tags: State Budget, Integrity, Transparency

Ms O'CONNOR - Chair, the Estimates Committee A with the new Minister for Sport and Recreation, Local Government, and Hospitality and Events was very revealing. Under the rigorous and tenacious questioning of my colleague, Dr Rosalie Woodruff, we learned that it is a story of winners and losers. The winners during the last state election campaign were those with Liberal Party connections. The losers were everyone else. Sitting members and candidates promised in the vicinity of $14 million to $15 million during the campaign to organisations to which they, invariably, had a close connection.

No one in here, certainly not the Greens, begrudges any organisation that received a grant following the last state election but, like the Integrity Commission, we question the process.

We have had a story in the headlines on and off ever since then of the Liberal member for Clark, Ms Ogilvie, who managed to secure a $150 000 grant for the Sandy Bay Rowing Club, of which her daughter is a member. This raises significant conflict-of-interest questions. There is a picture in the media, and certainly Ms Ogilvie put social media up of her standing in front of the kayaks at the Sandy Bay Rowing Club, letting the people who saw that post know that she delivered new infrastructure for the Sandy Bay Rowing Club. I must say she is looking very jaunty in a nautical navy jacket.

When you analyse the list of projects approved at Liberal Party HQ through a process that had no rigor and no merits base around it, against the register of members' interests, there is the Premier, who is a patron of the Ulverstone Soccer Club, which received a $185 000 grant for new clubrooms. There are plenty of soccer clubs around the state that would appreciate that level of funding. Education minister, Roger Jaensch, is a member of the Emu Valley Rhododendron Gardens, which received $61 273 for irrigation. He is also a patron of the Cradle Coast Outrigger Canoe Club, which received $78 000 for three canoes. I am reading from the ABC report. The Attorney-General, Elise Archer, is a patron of the Glenorchy Cricket Club, which scored $20 000, and of the Hobart Football Club, which received a grant of $50 000. Resources minister, Guy Barnett, is a patron of the Deloraine Bowls Club to which the Liberals committed $25 000. Oh, lucky Bracknell Football Club. The member for Lyons, Mr Shelton, is a life member and his family is closely connected to the Bracknell Football Club, which received $45 000, although the ABC reports that Mr Shelton's interest disclosure does not list the membership.

Initially, these grants were capped at $150 000 but one grant was changed to accommodate larger projects. One grant was $1 million to the Launceston City Football Club.

This has raised questions, for example, from the Centre for Public Integrity's Geoffrey Watson, who said:

Whenever there is a conflict of interest it almost certainly means that the money should not be allocated in that way. The lack of transparency is appalling … The idea that money could be allocated by people who are associated with a political party is just offensive to the notion of a proper allocation of public funds. It is ridiculous to think that the Tasmanian public could have any confidence in the way this was allocated.

It seems to be money allocated for party political purposes. That is contrary to the public interest. It is opaque to analysis and it is wrong.

We know that the Integrity Commission had a look at the 2018 state election, which was notable for something in the order of 400 small grants being given out to various organisations around the state in a clear example of pork-barrelling or electoral bribery. We hear from the Premier, his predecessor, from the minister, that this is a normal part of campaigning, a normal part of doing business.

I want to know, for example, about the $85 000 that Ms Ogilvie secured for the excellent Bucaan Neighbourhood House: did other neighbourhood houses also receive $85 000? What about the fantastic people at West Moonah Neighbourhood House? This is the problem with a scattergun electoral bribery approach to public funds.

The best way to do it, of course, is to have a merits-based approach and to take a responsive and responsible policy approach. That is to say, for example: 'All neighbourhood houses require an extra allocation of funds so they can continue to do their fantastic frontline community work. As a party, should we be re-elected to government, we will give each neighbourhood house an extra $85 000.'

What you have here, for two state elections in a row now, is a very unfair system, a system where grant applications, requests for assistance, are sent to Liberal Party HQ. Can you imagine if it was found out that a group of faceless men and women at the Greens HQ were telling candidates what we could promise and to whom? When you flip it like that, it sounds as bad as it is. The thing is that Liberal Party HQ knows the numbers, they know the donors, they know where electoral support needs to be shored up so, of course, those decisions were going to be made in Liberal Party headquarters. It is disgusting, it smells. It has been identified as a stink by people like Geoffrey Watson QC, Tasmania's Integrity Commission and out in the community. We have a system here that is smelly and unfair.

You see the consequences of those promises in the Sport and Recreation budget which had a $14 million drop in it, as revealed by Dr Woodruff, because that was the money that had to be spent on Liberal election promises that were about who you know. Not what your level of need is as an organisation but who your patron is, who you are connected to, which Liberal member comes to your neighbourhood house for a community lunch. It makes it just so unfair on the many excellent sporting and community organisations in Tasmania that were just not in the know with the Liberal member or candidate, or the Liberal party HQ.

The only reason this has come to light is because the Greens found the documents - Ms Ogilvie's documents, actually, which gave her a template pro forma letter which said something like, 'Congratulations, we are very pleased at Liberal Party headquarters to confirm that we will allocate $150 000 to the Sandy Bay Rowing Club for the purposes of a new pontoon.' Nowhere in that letter did it say we think Ms Ogilvie's daughter is a terrific rower and we want to support Ms Ogilvie's rowing club. This is all about favours being given. Who you know, and who you are connected to.

Chair, the local communities facilities fund is an electoral bribery fund with public money. I am not sitting this on the new minister's head. This was before his time, but he has been around for a little while, as he reminded me at the Estimates table, so I think he knows full well that this is not a merits-based process. It is an opaque process for distributing public funds for the purposes of electoral bribery.