Michael Pascoe: The Great Golf Rort where Labor seats need not apply

Federal grants for golf clubs have again overwhelmingly favoured Coalition seats.

Federal grants for golf clubs have again overwhelmingly favoured Coalition seats. Photo: TND

I don’t know where to start with this story.

The family trust being federally funded to update its motel curtains and pelmets in Barnaby Joyce’s electorate is a tempting lede, but so is the interaction of taxpayers’ coin with property development around the Murray Bridge Golf Course.

The National Radioactive Waste Management Facility Community Benefit Grants for the Quorn and Kimba golf clubs are intriguing – Quorn upgraded “tee blocks from compacted ground to new synthetic, all-weather surface tees”.

Then there is the issue of why the federal government is throwing millions of dollars at golf clubs at all – they are, after all, private businesses, whatever their ownership structure, and part of the big business that is golf.

Golf courses have been major beneficiaries of funding, despite many being private businesses. Photo: Getty

But in the end, I have to go with the big figure to keep faith with The New Daily reporting analysis of federal grants being rorted for political purposes, rorted on such a scale as to be corrupt.

Over the past four years, the Morrison government has given more than $22.3 million to golf clubs and associated businesses via a score of grant programs, schemes and wheezes.

Magically, only 2.2 per cent of that money has gone to golf clubs or related businesses that are in Labor electorates.

It seems golf isn’t meant to be a game for Labor voters.

I have been collaborating with spreadsheet sleuth Vince O’Grady for 20 months as we have delved into the many billions of dollars of Commonwealth grants, assisted by a couple of IT colleagues.

Whether Building Better Regions, Stronger Communities or Community Development Grants, I’ve been struck by how often golf clubs have been blessed with Commonwealth money, some of them doozies.

Hard to go past the picturesque Crescent Head Country Club on the water in the Nationals’ NSW mid-north coast seat of Cowper copping $1.31 million for adding a mini-golf course with recycled water irrigation.

Or the poker machine-subsidised Corowa Golf Club being gifted nearly $1 million for “a new, state-of-the-art, computer-controlled irrigation system”.

That was a factor in helping the club record a million-dollar profit last year.

Mr O’Grady and associates subsequently ran “golf” through the various grants and schemes, scoring 175 payouts over the past four years.

Labor seats have 38 of those for a total of $498,447 – an average of only $13,117.

The Coalition seats’ 132 grants total $21,758,570 – averaging $164,837.

No doubt Coalition seats having 247 per cent more grants than Labor seats and those Coalition grants being 1157 per cent larger on average is purely coincidental.

But then again, probably not.

For example, the Berwick Montuna Golf Club in the has been gifted $429,000, of which $390,000 was “via a pre-federal election promise”.

“Mr Savage paid particular tribute to federal La Trobe MP Jason Wood for his part in securing federal government funding for the project,” enthuses the club president on a website dedicated to golf clubs obtaining government money.

“Jason has been very supportive from the outset. He visited the course on several occasions and grasped very quickly that we are an important community facility in a rapidly expanding area that has an obvious need for more and better recreational spaces. We are very grateful to him and the Pitch In campaign.”

As Scott Morrison says when presented with overwhelming Coalition grant corruption, he must be a good local member.

And it could be argued the Coalition had a finger in more than the 132 grants the spreadsheets allocated them.

Three grants in Bob Katter’s Kennedy and two in the lost Downer ancestral seat of Mayo – well, they certainly weren’t Labor seats.

On the other hand, the $22,096 for the Jenkins Family Trust, trading as the West Tamworth Golf Links Motel, to “replace our existing lightweight curtains with heavyweight, blockout curtains and add pelmets to all 21 of our guestrooms” isn’t really a golf thing, but part of a $10.2 million “Hotel Energy Uplift Program”.

“The program provides grants to support small and medium hotels to reduce their energy use, improve energy productivity and deliver carbon abatement.”

Yes, folks, the Australian government in action, fighting climate change with pelmets.

The New Terry Hotel and Golf resort (now that BreakFree Wirrina Cove “Best 3 Star Luxury Accommodation on the Fleurieu Peninsula”) in Mayo pocketed $27,500 under the same scheme to improve its air-conditioning. So that’s two grants that might be fairly sliced into the rough.

On the other hand, the Building Better Regions Fund gift of $373,000 to the “perfectly manicured” Murray Bridge club looks particularly rich.

“The project will upgrade the Murray Bridge Golf Course from a par-68 to a par-71 championship course, together with an upgrade of the clubhouse facilities.”

Never mind that the upgrade will effectively have the course running through a $50 million property development, the developer donating some of the land and the necessary earthworks for the three extra holes.

Such is the scale of the club and enterprise, it’s a mystery to me why federal taxpayers are contributing. Maybe count that one twice.

Which touches on the broader question of what the federal government is doing down in the sand trap handing out cash to clubs, regardless of the clubs’ wealth or need. It’s tacky and ripe for being compromised – just ask Daryl Maguire.

The overall club industry is a massively powerful political force, as Andrew Wilkie discovered when he tried to limit poker machine gambling.

I once suggested John Howard and Peter Costello colluded to blow the doors off the Treasury safe to enable rich people to stuff their superannuation funds with many millions of dollars because they wanted to be popular in the golf club when they retired.

Clearly, that is now unnecessary. Under Scott Morrison, the cash goes direct to the club – if it has the right local member.

(There was a $13,750 grant in November 2018 to upgrade the Burnie Golf Club’s function area and kitchen when the seat of Braddon was held by Labor. Braddon turned Liberal in the election six months later – so you could claim Labor seats received 2.3 per cent. Braddon has done exceptionally well in all manner of federal grants.)

Disclosure: Michael Pascoe is not a golfer.

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