A controversial $10 million given to Foxtel to broadcast women’s and under-represented sports has been revealed as being funded under a federal coronavirus response package, a decision derided as a “mockery”.
Labor has slammed the government for providing “absolutely no accountability” around the decision to award the funding.
As reported last month, the $10 million came in addition to a previous $30 million grant to the broadcaster in 2017 under the same program to show under-represented sports. Questions were raised over that previous decision, after the government declined to answer why and how the funding was allocated and spent.
In July, Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young called the additional $10m “another public handout to the Morrison government’s Murdoch mates”, claiming it was unfair to send such funds to the pay TV broadcaster while the Australian Broadcasting Corporation was subject to an indexation freeze on funding.
She told The New Daily at the time that the decision “really is the height of arrogance.”
The Senate Select Committee on COVID-19 met again on Thursday, with senators grilling employment, education and infrastructure department officials. As part of the hearing, Senator Hanson-Young asked the communications department how the $10 million granted to Fox Sports last month was decided – and why it wound up being listed as part of the federal government’s COVID-19 Response Package for the communications, cyber safety and arts sector.
“I don’t think it was announced as a specific COVID measure, as such,” answered Richard Windeyer, deputy secretary of the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications.
“It’s the extension of that under-represented sports program… to extend the program, which was otherwise terminating.”
Government documents list the new $10 million as funding “to extend the Supporting Television and Online Coverage of Under‑represented Sports Program to provide further support for the broadcasting of underrepresented sports on subscription television, including women’s sports, niche sports and sports with a high level of community involvement and participation.”
The grant was listed alongside other measures such as funds to specifically support the arts and entertainment sectors to resume after COVID shutdowns, including large signature Morrison government policies such as $90 million in concessional loans for artistic productions and $400 million to entice international screen productions to film in Australia.
Government officials said the funding was specifically listed under the COVID response package because it would support sports that would resume once coronavirus shutdowns were lifted.
“This is an extension for when those under-represented sports come back on, so that we can prioritise coverage of those sports,” said department secretary Simon Atkinson.
“It was put in through that as an extension to ensure the under-represented sports had proper coverage as they started to re-open up through the back end of COVID.”
The Morrison Govt gives Foxtel an extra $10m as part of the Government’s ”Covid Response Package”.
The ABC gets nothing as part of their response, despite the large role the public broadcaster is playing to keep the community informed, safe and connected.
— Sarah Hanson-Young💚 (@sarahinthesen8) August 6, 2020
Senator Hanson-Young asked whether public broadcasters, such as the ABC or SBS, could instead have been used to promote women’s or under-represented sports.
The department later said the women’s sports to be broadcast through the program included AFLW, soccer, cricket, hockey and more. Labor senator Kristina Keneally later noted some of these sports had previously been broadcast on the ABC.
Senator Keneally, picking up after Senator Hanson-Young, asked numerous questions about how and why the funding was deemed necessary. Department officials said unable to give specifics on exactly how and why the funding was allocated to Foxtel, but said the initial $30 million funding was a “grant” – and that therefore, the additional $10 million was not available for application or tender by other broadcasters.
Michelle Rowland, Labor’s shadow communications minister, claimed there was “absolutely no accountability” around the funding, and criticised the government for “putting taxpayer-funded sports broadcasts behind a paywall.”
“The Department was unable to answer basic questions about the grant when asked by the Senate’s COVID-19 Committee today,” she told The New Daily after the hearing.
Senator Hanson-Young later slammed the decision to give Foxtel cash under the coronavirus package.
“This program makes a mockery of the Morrison Government’s Covid response measures and should be cancelled or redirected to ABC and SBS,” she told The New Daily.