Just in the last fortnight, I’ve decried the whole #SportsRortsII thing, where we have seen the federal government doling out the better part of $100 million not according to the public’s need, but according to their own need to win marginal seats. (Say, Mosman Rowing Club, how ‘about a lazy 500K between friends, just before Tony Abbott faces the fight of his life against Zali Steggall in this very electorate.)
Now, if you thought there is no end to these outrages … you’d be right!
For just this week, this masthead’s Nigel Gladstone broke another big story right in the frame of precisely the same thing.
See, back before the 2015 state election, then Premier Mike Baird and Sports Minister Stuart Ayres made the big announcement in Ayres’ electorate of Penrith as the cameras rolled.
The NSW Government would be giving $12m as its half of a grant to fund “grassroots sport” as they built the “Western Sydney Community and Sports Centre” to provide … wait for it … “space for netball, futsal, wheelchair rugby and other indoor sports” and “a large gymnasium.”
The other half had already been committed two years earlier by the then federal Labor government of Kevin Rudd, even though the national auditors deemed the project as “not recommended” with “no identifiable positive impact on the broader community.”
Too late. The Rudd government got their positive announcement, just as the Baird government got theirs.
Headlines. News bulletins. Feel-good stuff.
But what ACTUALLY happened?
Tell ’em, my colleague Nigel Gladstone.
“[That money] in western Sydney will instead go towards a conference centre and an underground car park for the mammoth pokies-funded Panthers Group … The site, which is adjacent to Panthers Leagues Club in Penrith, will also contain a 150-room hotel as part of a redevelopment now estimated to cost $88m in total.”
Despite all the promises, the public at large got absolutely nothing in return for their taxpayers dollars. In good faith, many of them probably voted for the governments of both stripes on the strength of it.
But, in the end, it is the same thing. After the cameras left, the government did the deal, and the public is left scratching at the door.
And who did benefit?
Well, that would be the Penny Panthers group – which, as Gladstone noted, now has six licensed clubs – with a total income of more than $150m, including annual poker machine revenue of $66m. And THIS is the entity that got the taxpayer dollars.
Just as always happens!
The question, friends, is not why am I always pissed off about this kind of stuff. It is why aren’t you.
It is absolutely, freaking outrageous.
Peter FitzSimons is a journalist and columnist with The Sydney Morning Herald.