Michael Pascoe: Echoes of ‘sports rorts’ as NSW rolls out the pork barrel

The scandals have been coming thick and fast for Premier Dominic Perrottet. <i>Photo:  AAP</i>

The scandals have been coming thick and fast for Premier Dominic Perrottet. Photo: AAP

Given the circumstances of Dominic Perrottet becoming Premier last year and his June pledge “to support in principle” cleaning up pork-barrelling, you might think the NSW Government would be a little careful about grants continuing to run along party political lines.

But old habits die hard.

Analysis of the $200 million NSW’s Multi-Sport Community Facility Fund (MSCF) shows Labor seats continuing to do disproportionately badly – much worse than mere coincidence might dictate – while Coalition and key crossbench seats fare as you might suspect they would.

The two rounds of MSCF grants are split between the year before Mr Perrottet became Premier amidst the stink of rotten pork-barrelling, and this year.

The average Labor seat received about half what Liberal and National seats received in the first round, allocated when Gladys Berejiklian was premier. The proportion dropped to about a third under Premier Perrottet. So it goes.

Spreadsheet sleuth Vince O’Grady and his collaborators ran the NSW MSCF grants through the same system they applied to the federal Coalition government’s multi-billion grant corruption. The MSCF is small beer by comparison, but the principles (or lack thereof) remain the same.

In the first round under Ms Berejiklian, when grant rorting was officially “it is what it is”, it really paid to have an independent or Shooters and Fishers state member.

Keeping the independents happy

Not all seats received cash from the fund, but the seven independents, representing 7.8 per cent of the seats, received 11.9 per cent of the cash – an average of $1.68 million, with the two Shooters and Fishers seats averaging $2.76 million.

National seats averaged $1.31 million and Liberal seats $1.25 million, while Labor seats scored an average of only $663,531. With 40 per cent of the seats in parliament, they received only 24 per cent of MSCF cash.

In the second round, under Mr Perrottet, the independents and minor parties didn’t do as outrageously well but still averaged better than Labor. (The Shooters and Fishers seats had to make do with digesting
the previous year’s grants.)

The average National or Liberal seat scored $1.67 million in the grants
announced last month. The average Labor seat dropped to $579,498.

No doubt that is purely coincidental. Or maybe not.

As usual with government grants, there are plenty of curious allocations of taxpayer funds, both to individual winning projects and to which seats might seem to be particularly “lucky”. And there are even echoes from the infamous Bridget McKenzie federal #sportsrorts.

The good times just keep rolling for the Hunters Hill Rugby Union Club – $500,000 from Senator McKenzie in what was Trent Zimmerman’s Liberal seat of North Sydney, and then $1.3 million in the MSCF round one to Anthony Roberts’ Liberal state seat of Lane Cove.

Must be quite a clubhouse Boronia Park is getting. Oh, that every suburban sports club could be so lucky, or adept at applying for government money.

They’re celebrating again at Hunters Hill. Image: NSW Govt

Mr Roberts’ seat also did very well in the second round this year – $5 million for the Lane Cove Sport and Recreation Precinct to “create an indoor all-year-round sporting centre and recreation facility” integrated
with the Lane Cove golf course. Mr Roberts is facing a challenge from a community independent candidate in the looming March election.

A trap for the unwary would be to think Lane Cove picked up another $2 million in round one because the winner, large private sport facilities management company Sydney Sport Management Group, has its office in the electorate.

That cash was another injection for SSM’s Tennis World in Victor Dominello’s seat of North Ryde. The Tennis World site has been politically hot in North Ryde, the state government previously having to back off rezoning it.

The dividing line between community, club and private winners of grants has long been dubious.

Among those to catch the passing eye in Ms Berejiklian’s round one was $1 million for Sydney Maccabi Tennis Club Ltd towards “expansion and revitalisation of Historic White City multi-sport community centre”.

The Hakoah Club and Maccabi Tennis Club purchased White City in 2010 while pushing a $60 million redevelopment. I suppose every little bit helps.

Then there is the Tweed Heads Seagulls rugby league club – sponsored by the Tweed Seagulls pokie machine palace – scoring $1.69 million.

And the Coffs Harbour Kart Racing Club winning $2.17 million, though you could lap me multiple times while I try to figure out how a kart racing track and club is a “multi-sport facility”.

In the same first round, Coffs Harbour also won $1.1 million for an upgrade and expansion of Sportz Central. Coffs Harbour is a National seat, if you needed to be told.

And there are other intriguing uses of taxpayer money. Yes, you are paying for more pickleball courts. And paddle courts. But old school, very old school games aren’t forgotten.

The Sydney Real Tennis Club last month received $1.4 million towards building an indoor sports hall at the Cheltenham Recreation Club. That’s in Epping, Dom Perrottet’s seat. I suppose it could be a sort of multi-sport facility, sort of.

And how could one leave a story about NSW sports grants without mentioning Wagga?

In last year’s round one, Wagga did especially well – $2.74 million for the Bill Jacob Athletics Centre and $5 million for the Bolton Park Sports Hub Stage 1.

Nothing more for clay target shooting though – and nothing further for Wagga in round two this year.

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