Maurice Blackburn challenges dodgy sports rorts grants on behalf of overlooked community sports club

5 March 2020
The prospect of a Federal Court challenge over the sports rorts affair has increased after Maurice Blackburn Lawyers sent a formal Letter of Demand to the Australian Sports Commission (ASC) on behalf of the Beechworth Lawn Tennis Club (BLTC) following more revelations about the Morrison Government scandal.

Maurice Blackburn delivered a Letter of Demand to the ASC on Wednesday seeking an undertaking that it set aside BLTC’s unsuccessful grant application decision and reassess it in accordance with the Australian Sports Commission Act.

If the ASC refuses to confirm that it will undertake the process again by 17 March, Federal Court proceedings will be issued. A Federal Court challenge would be a test case about the legality of the sports rorts affair. If the BLTC is successful in a legal challenge, the benefit is likely to flow through to all other clubs that should have received grants on merit.

Maurice Blackburn Principal Josh Bornstein said the ASC acted unlawfully by failing to properly administer the grants on merit and breached its statutory duties by taking directions from the Minister for Sport, Bridget McKenzie and the Prime Minister Scott Morrison as to the recipients of the grants.

“It is disturbing that both the Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Senator McKenzie were able to use the Sports Infrastructure Grants Program for the political gain of their political parties. Neither the Prime Minister or Senator McKenzie have any legal authority to determine the recipients of community sports grants,” Mr Bornstein said.

The Letter of Demand says:

“There was no authority for the Commission to delegate decision-making authority to the Minister and/or Prime Minister. Neither the Minister of the Prime Minister is a person to whom the Commission was authorised under the Act to delegate any of its functions. Moreover, the Minister for Sport did not make any direction to the Commissioner under s 11 of the Act that could justify the role she played in the Commission’s process.”

“The Minister and the Prime Minister took into account their political party’s electoral interests in seeking to maximise the prospects of the Morrison government winning the 2019 federal election in deciding whether to grant applications. That is a nakedly political consideration that is, as a matter of statutory interpretation, a completely irrelevant consideration for the Commission.”

In September 2018, the Indigo Shire Council, on behalf of the BLTC, applied for a grant of $500,000 under the Community Sports Infrastructure Grant Program for the purpose of funding the building of new tennis facilities and a clubhouse.

The grant was rejected despite qualifying under the ASC criteria.

BLTC president Andy Carr said the club had been struggling for 20 years to up-grade its facilities.

“We’ve just be thwarted by corruption at every turn. We worked hard for six weeks on the grant application and easily qualified. It’s just left us devastated. The club has dwindled in numbers because we haven’t got anywhere to play tennis. People in the town have to drive for over 30 kilometres just to take their kids to hot-shots,” Mr Carr said.

Mr Bornstein commended BLTC for coming forward in pursuing this matter and encouraged other sporting clubs to come forward and support the process of eliminating corruption from the sports grants system.

Media inquiries: Jade Knight via jknight@mauriceblackburn.com.au

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