The Federal Court will tomorrow hear an application for orders compelling the Australian Sports Commission (ASC) to hand over key documents relating to the role of former Sports Minister Bridget McKenzie and her staff in the sports rorts scandal.
Maurice Blackburn Lawyers is acting for the Beechworth Lawn Tennis Club (BLTC) in challenging the legality of the Morrison Government’s community sports grants program.
Specifically, the case seeks to overturn a decision from the ASC to reject the club’s grant funding application, with the Court to consider if the ASC acted unlawfully by delegating its decision-making to Ms McKenzie and/or whether the ASC acted under the dictation of the Minister in awarding sports grants to community organisations. The documents being sought are crucial in determining these issues.
The orders will seek documents about the Minister’s role across the Community Sports Infrastructure Grant (CSIG) Program, including both hardcopy and electronic documents.
Maurice Blackburn Principal Josh Bornstein said BLTC had been left with no option but to pursue the key documents through the Federal Court, after the ASC declined to provide the documents to allow the case to proceed.
“Unfortunately, we were unable to reach agreement with the ASC over what we believe are highly relevant documents regarding the former Minister’s role in the grants program, which left us with no option but to apply to the Federal Court earlier this year for formal orders,” Mr Bornstein said.
“The ASC has also continued to seek to limit the scope of the documents we have requested, maintaining it is only required to provide electronic documents relating to grant decisions about the BLTC and the Wangaratta Clay Target Club.
“That in our view is entirely insufficient – to truly get to the bottom of this matter in seeking to determine the lawfulness of the ASC’s actions we need all relevant documents relating to the former Minister’s role in the sports grants program.
“It of course has always remained open to the ASC to provide these documents at any time but they have declined to do so, and we look forward to the Federal Court now determining this matter following tomorrow’s hearing.
“As we have said repeatedly throughout this case, while the misuse of taxpayer funds in the sports rorts grant program at the last election has been highlighted by both a report from the Auditor General and within the Parliament, those responsible have not been held to account.
“The ASC is arguing that the report of the Auditor General should not be admissible evidence in the court proceedings because it is covered by ‘parliamentary privilege’.
“The fact remains also that if there is nothing to hide, then there is no reason that the ASC should not hand over the documents that the BLTC has requested.
“Through this important test case we are hoping to have the decision to reject the BLTC’s application overturned and in doing so, our client hopes to ensure that there is appropriate accountability for those who allowed the sports rorts saga to happen.
“That accountability is crucial, particularly given stories that continue to emerge about alleged continuing inappropriate allocation of grants across a range of Federal Government programs that extend well beyond the sports grants program,” he said.
The Court will determine the application after the hearing on Tuesday.
Further information about the BLTC case
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 building new tennis facilities and a clubhouse.
The grant was rejected, despite qualifying under the ASC criteria.
The Federal Court challenge on behalf of the BLTC is an important test case into the legality of the entire sports rorts scandal, that if successful will likely benefit other clubs who should have received grants on merit.
Media inquiries: Jade Knight at Maurice Blackburn Lawyers – 0417 969 438