By Nadia Daly, 7.30 Report on 13th February 2020.

NADIA DALY, REPORTER: Every afternoon, locals in Belconnen in Canberra’s north, grab a racquet and head to their local tennis club.

But when the sun goes down, having a hit becomes a bit harder for some players.

MARTIN KLEIN, PRESIDENT, BELCONNEN TENNIS CLUB: Tennis is a game for life. We have people in their 80s.

Several of our courts have dark patches and light patches and there’s not much we can do about it with the current set-up.

To play tennis you need to be able to see the ball.

NADIA DALY: Club president, Martin Klein, says the court lights were installed 50 years ago and need an upgrade.

MARTIN KLEIN: If you switch them off and then try to switch them back on again, you probably have to wait 20 to 30 minutes before the lights come back up because of the way the lights work.

NADIA DALY: The club is a not-for-profit, run by volunteers on member fees and grants.

Based in a safe Labor seat, the club applied for a $50,000 community sport infrastructure grant to upgrade the lights.

They were knocked back despite their submission scoring 82 out of 100.

MARTIN KLEIN: It was very gratifying to get 82 or 80 and to think that the effort that we put into the application was rewarded with that sort of grading.

I think as a club we would have been deserving of the funding.

NADIA DALY: They’re one of mane community groups that missed out on funding but it wasn’t because their application lacked merit.

BRIDGET MCKENZIE, FORMER SPORTS MINISTER: Every single one of those 684 projects that were funded was eligible for funding under the guidelines.

LEIGH SALES, PRESENTER: The Minister’s office hand-picked projects.

SCOTT MORRISON, PRIME MINISTER: The rules were followed. Guidelines are separate issues.

NADIA DALY: A report by the Auditor-General found former sports minister, Bridget McKenzie, favoured some marginal electorates in deciding where to award the grants in the lead-up to the 2019 election.

The report revealed that more than 400 clubs received funding despite getting scores for their submissions that were well below the Belconnen Tennis Clubs.

MARTIN KLEIN: A little bit disappointing. Perhaps I’m old enough and cynical enough to realise that at the back of your mind saying perhaps Commonwealth funding, perhaps it won’t be distributed as well as it could be but you can only apply.

STEPHEN CHARLES, FORMER VICTORIAN SUPREME COURT JUDGE: I was disgusted. It was an egregious misuse of taxpayers’ money.

NADIA DALY: In Holbrook in southern New South Wales, this is the only sports centre in town.


NADIA DALY: It’s close to the Victorian border so the sport of choice here is AFL.

RUSSELL PARK, CHAIR, HOLBROOK SPORTING COMPLEX: All these facilities were done on the back of volunteers.

NADIA DALY: The club was built in the 1970s and ’80s and it’s starting to show.

RUSSELL PARK: We have just simply outgrown the facilities and they’re no longer fit for purpose.

We have no disability access at all, all abilities toilets or showers.

HEATHER WILTON: The toilet facilities in the main building here are atrocious actually.

NADIA DALY: The Holbrook sporting complex still has its original male-only changerooms so the growing number of women and girls who use the club are forced to change in their car or in a single female toilet cubicle.

RUSSELL PARK: It’s just open to the changerooms so no privacy. No access for girls at all.

They’re obviously having to wait outside while the rest of the footballers are getting ready because they just can’t get in here.

HEATHER WILTON: It is totally unsatisfactory. We’re not talking about five-star. We’re just talking about clean, decent facilities that work.

NADIA DALY: The club put in an application for $500,000 under the same grants program to upgrade their aging facilities but were knocked back.

HEATHER WILTON: I believe the cut-off was 74 and our score was 76. So we were just above the cut-off.

But look, I don’t know. We apply for a lot of grants – some we get and some we don’t get.

RUSSELL PARK: I’m not being critical of any political party or anything. It’s just I guess we would like to see that it’s done properly and fairly and equitable and everybody’s project is judged on its merits and its merits alone.

NADIA DALY: The club in the safe Liberal seat of Farrer is now looking for other ways to raise the funds it needs.

RUSSELL PARK: Work happens purely by people rolling up their sleeves and digging in.

Obviously it’s difficult to raise money in a small community and you keep asking the same people all the time.

STEPHEN CHARLES: Their applications should be considered again plainly because the ones who are the most meritorious are the ones who should have been receiving this money.

That’s one of the wrongs that’s been done by this egregious waste of public money.

NADIA DALY: 7.30 requested an interview with former sports minister, Bridget McKenzie.

Her spokesman wouldn’t comment on the Community Sports Infrastructure program.

HEATHER WILTON: It obviously wasn’t right and it really needs to be rectified.

NADIA DALY: Former Victorian High Court Judge, Stephen Charles, is travelling to Canberra to speak to crossbenchers about the need for a National Integrity Commission which has the power to investigate matters like this.

STEPHEN CHARLES: The way to stop it is a strong and effective National Integrity Commission which, if ministers realise that improper behaviour like this is likely to be exposed, they’re less likely to do it.

This Government is prepared to tolerate, to regard as legitimate, this egregious misbehaviour and that is, I think, a lasting stain which will remain with the Government for its life.