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‘Thwarted by corruption’, club threatens to sue over sports rorts

sports rort tennis club sues
The Beechworth Club's courts in 2017. It is threatening to sue after missing out on a "sports rort" grant. Photo: Facebook/BLTC
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A Victorian tennis club may take legal action after missing out on $500,000 in the federal government’s “sports rorts” program, despite qualifying for the cash.

The Beechworth Lawn Tennis Club in north-east Victoria says it has struggled for 20 years to upgrade its facilities and was devastated to miss out in the $100 million grants program.

Through Maurice Blackburn Lawyers, it has written to the Australian Sports Commission demanding its application be reassessed.

“We’ve just been thwarted by corruption at every turn. We worked hard for six weeks on the grant application and easily qualified,” club president Andy Carr said.

The BLTC wanted $500,000 to rebuild its courts, which are in disrepair and do not meet Tennis Victoria’s standards. They have been out of action since 2018.

But – despite being told its application met ASC criteria and had a merit score of 78 out of 100 – the club missed out.

Its letter, sent through Maurice Blackburn Lawyers, follows further revelations on Wednesday about the Morrison government’s actions regarding the allocation of millions of dollars in sports funding as the May 2019 federal election was called.

Sport Australia has admitted giving a Senate committee the wrong evidence about the timing of the final decision on the controversial $100 million grants program that funnelled money into projects on coalition-targeted seats.

Under the caretaker conventions, governments are not supposed to make major decisions during an election period.

Maurice Blackburn warned if the ASC refused to confirm it would carry out the reassessment by March 17, “Federal Court proceedings will be issued”.

“A Federal Court challenge would be a test case about the legality of the sports rorts affair,” the firm said.

“If the BLTC is successful in a legal challenge, the benefit is likely to flow through to all other clubs that should have received grants on merit.”

The letter of demand accuses former sports minister Bridget McKenzie and Prime Minister Scott Morrison of seeking to maximise the prospect of the Coalition winning the federal election when deciding whether or not to grant applications.

“That is a nakedly political consideration that is, as a matter of statutory interpretation, a completely irrelevant consideration for the Commission.”

Mr Carr said club officials were devastated at missing out on a grant.

“The club has dwindled in numbers because we haven’t got anywhere to play tennis,” he said.

“People in the town have to drive for over 30 kilometres just to take their kids to [junior tennis].”

-with AAP

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