Socrates and Aristotle are in the philosopher’s sports bar when Aristotle raises the subject of the Australian National Audit Office’s enquiry into the former sports minister’s awarding of funding in the Community Sport Infrastructure Program. Socrates slams his beer on the bar.
Socrates: One hundred million bucks! One hundred million bucks! That’s what she gave out. That really pisses me off.
Aristotle: Yeah. So what? That’s what government ministers do. They give out money. Besides, I thought you supported sports funding.
Socrates: Yeah. But they’re meant to give it to those that need it… that deserve it. They are meant to provide it to people and groups for good reasons.
Aristotle: Hang on. I read in the news that the former sports minister said that “no rules were broken” and that every organization that she gave money to was eligible.
Socrates: Totes? What rules? There were no rules. The only rule that was applied was the rule that the minister gets to make the decision.
Grants met eligibility criteria?
Aristotle: She said that every grant that she handed out met the eligibility criteria.
Socrates: There were over two thousand and fifty applicants for sports grants and bloody nearly two thousand of them met the eligibility criteria. Big deal. So what if the grant winners were “eligible.” Hercules’ alcoholic cat was eligible but that doesn’t mean that Fluffy should have been given the dosh. Out of the eligible two thousand there were lots who were deserving and lots who weren’t. The most deserving should have gotten the dosh.
Aristotle: Alright. I’ll bite. How should the minister have chosen the successful applicants?
Socrates: It’s not brain surgery, dumb arse. The Sports Commission who were running the grants program published criteria against which all applicants would be assessed. They assessed the applications and gave them a score out of one hundred according to how well they met the criteria. In other words, it couldn’t have been simpler for the minster. The applicants were ranked numerically! The deserving and the underserving… black and white. The minister should have given grants to the those who warranted it.
Aristotle: Oh, come on Socs. Steady. It’s not as simple as that. If you were a government minister who was being asked to sign off on one hundred million bucks of government handouts would you blindly accept the recommendations of a federal authority? Listen to the bureaucrats without question?
Minister should have some discretion
Socrates: You know me better than that Totes. I never accept anything unquestioningly. Especially not when it comes to government bodies. Of course, the minister should have some discretion. Of course, she should question their assessments and adjust where she is convinced that something is not quite right. But to ignore the advice of a federally funded body just because she is the minister… and just because she thinks she can… is extraordinary. There is one thing I trust less than government bureaucracies. That’s elected air heads who think they are answerable to no-none. Think about it, mate. One member of parliament thinks that she knows better than a whole sports commission whose job is to give her the information to enable her to decide. She reckons that her personal assessment of the worthiness of two thousand organizations is better than that of an entire bureaucracy set up to do that kind of work. If the commission is incapable of giving her decent advice, then how come it is so inept? What is she doing about that? Why is she even funding a government body that she refuses to take any notice of? It doesn’t make sense.
Aristotle: Did she completely ignore their assessment? Surely not.
Socrates: You won’t believe this mate but sixty-one percent of the grants that the minister approved were below the cut off point that the sports commission set to determine the most deserving. Sixty-one percent! No less than 417 grants were given to applications that the commission would have considered less worthy.
Aristotle: Well who did get the dosh then?
Socrates: The Australian National Audit Office reckons that the minister’s focus was on marginal coalition electorates and electorates of other parties that the government wanted to target in the upcoming election.
Aristotle: Some would call that dodgy.
Socrates: I don’t give a rat’s arse about the government pulling swifties to keep themselves in power. Governments and their oppositions will always pull stunts to kick the shit out of each other. Let’s face it. Politicians care more about keeping themselves in power than they do about governing well. That’s the nature of democracy.
Aristotle: Well. What’s got you so pissed off then?
Socrates: I have coached sport for over thirty years, I reckon. I have seen thousands of kids, adults and their sporting organizations grovelling to government decision makers for a few scraps to enable them to play sports, exercise and stay fit within their regions and so often these poor buggers are ignored. The political parties can continue to kick the shit out of each other until kingdom comes for all I care but, at least, at very least… they can treat the punters fairly. It’s not a lot to ask. Treating the punters as pawns in a brain-free political game when the punters have real needs rattles my cage. I know I am biased, but I think that one of the best uses of taxation dollars is community development and community fitness. When taxation dollars are wasted by ignoring the advice of bodies funded specifically to carry out that purpose then further wasted by giving money to the less deserving (just because a minister says so) I see red.