Michael Pascoe: Grants corruption rolls on, with bias in bowls too

Bowls clubs are the latest organisations to benefit from the Coalition’s grants rorting, Michael Pascoe writes.

Bowls clubs are the latest organisations to benefit from the Coalition’s grants rorting, Michael Pascoe writes. Photo: TND

Sure, $17.6 million is peanuts in the general scheme of the Morrison government’s multibillion-dollar grants corruption, but given the historical significance of a bowling club stunt lighting the fuse for blowing up the Coalition’s industrial-scale rorting, let’s go bowling.

(Of course there’s bias in lawn bowls, but having avoided most golfing terms in our examination of the astonishing level of grant corruption in that sport, I’ll resist mentioning jack/kitty, ditch, rink etc.)

The good news is that the government allocation of your money to bowling clubs over the past four years has not been as outrageously, unbelievably lopsided as its golf club politicking.

In bowls, the government money has only favoured Coalition seats over Labor by about two to one.

Or, if the raw numbers are “seasonally adjusted” for the usual oddities we’ve come to expect in grant skewing, it’s more like three to one.

By comparison, the ratio of government to Labor seats in the House of Representatives is 76 to 68 – 53 per cent to 47 per cent, ignoring the minorities. That’s not a great deal, just three percentage points away from 50-50.

Readers should know the form by now.

For 20 months, The New Daily has been collaborating with spreadsheet sleuth Vince O’Grady and his IT support in harvesting grant data from government websites, from the $4 billion Community Development Grants scandal down to, well, bowls.

Trawling the grants hub found 684 gifts to bowls clubs totalling $17.6 million over the past four year via various grants schemes, rorts and wheezes.


The infamous image of Liberal candidate for Mayo Georgina Downer handing over a novelty cheque to the Yankalilla Bowling Club in February 2019.

And that’s without including Georgina Downer’s infamous $127,373 Liberal Party novelty cheque for the Yankalilla Bowling Club during the 2019 election campaign. The sitting member, Rebekha Sharkie, Centre Alliance, did not get a look in – but Ms Downer still failed to win her father’s former seat anyway.

That cheque was part of the $100 million #sportsrorts disgrace which, being funnelled through an acquiescent “independent” Sports Australia, doesn’t show up in the grants hub.

The neat thing about the bowling club grants is that most are quite small, barely worth the administrative time required to grant them – but they still give the local member the chance to be seen to be supporting the older crowd that are bowls clubs’ members and who vote – and older folk skew conservative.

Larger grants of six figures or close to it are rare – and stand out even more when they go to an apparent Labor electorate.

As usual, the grants to Labor seats are inflated if only judged by the postcodes of the recipients.

For example, the second-biggest bowls club gift last year, $165,000,  seemed to be to Ged Kearney’s Labor electorate of Cooper – but it was for the sport’s top body, Bowls Australia Ltd, which happens to have its office in Cooper and has a much broader ability to appeal to government members.

More obviously intriguing from the viewpoint of politically targeted use of taxpayers’ money is all the cash rolled into the bowls clubs lucky enough to be in the electorate of Corangamite – $612,833 in grants for eight clubs.

Corangamite shows up as a Labor seat, but it was only won in 2019 when the electorate said no to the Liberals’ Sarah Henderson, subsequently rewarded by being plopped into the Senate.

Liberal senator Sarah Henderson. Photo: ABC News

Those various grants were in the works before, during and after the election – it seems the Liberal Party was working hard to try to keep Corangamite and hasn’t given up on winning it back.

$93,899.30 was approved for an upgrade of the Lorne Bowls Club in March 2019.

The Torquay BC won $451,000 in December 2019. Drysdale, Apollo Bay, Inverleigh, Bannockburn, Belmont and Herne Hill all received a serving from the barrel to make up the rest.

It seems bowlers are mighty thick on the ground down Corangamite way – or they’re judged to be worth duchessing in a marginal seat.

Particularly fat grants stand out among the bowls clubs, more so if the postcode indicates a Labor seat. Thus the need to look closer at the  $649,000 to provide shade for the Aspley Memorial BC in Brisbane.

The postcode indicates the Labor seat of Lilley, but it’s actually just over the border in the LNP’s Petrie.

And the biggest bowls-related grant of all during the four years examined was $4.7 million approved in December 2018 for the Devonport Country Club.

It happens to be in the Tasmanian seat of Braddon, an electorate showered with federal money that paid off for the Liberal Party when it took the seat from Labor in 2019.

The biggest mystery for me among all the bowls grants though is the $2.4 million approved for the Thornie BC in 2018 “to provide a function venue and facilities”.

Burt MP Matt Keogh must be “a very good member”. Photo: AAP

The club is in Perth’s safe Labor seat of Burt – that doesn’t make sense.

The best explanation I can imagine is that it is situated very close to the border with Liberal Andrew Hastie’s Canning.

Indeed, Burt is mostly surrounded by Liberal seats but it still doesn’t quite make sense. Or maybe, to use Scott Morrison’s stated reasoning for such things, maybe Matt Keogh is “a very good member”.

Or maybe, just maybe, there was a balancing of the ledger.

Burt stood out in the Morrison/McKenzie #sportsrorts for being the only electorate not to receive a single cent – and that despite a City of Gosnells application scoring 83 points on the Sport Australia assessment, a score that without political interference would have landed the money.

That’s the fascinating thing about analysing the grants corruption, the way different grants schemes can be used for political advantage.

La Trobe’s Liberal MP Jason Wood won a mention in our golf club story for the $429,000 he was credited for delivering to the Berwick Montuna club, but he’s far from a single-sport MP. His electorate’s Pakenham BC scored $550,000, but that’s far from all.

There’s no better example than Mr Wood’s website of how taxpayers’ money can be used to pitch political advantage through numerous grants to various groups in an electorate – right up to and including a share of #carporks.

Never mind the school funding, “community facilities”, road upgrades and hospital funding that Mr Wood gives the impression of claiming credit for, there are 28 sports clubs copping $16.6 million in La Trobe – and he doesn’t seem to have included the Pakenham BC’s half million yet.

It looks good for the local member, but with grants skewed so heavily with a political bias, it’s hard to see how it is the best outcome for the Commonwealth.

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