A regional Victorian tennis club denied funding under the “sports rorts” program is pushing for the release of documents to shed light on Senator Bridget McKenzie’s role in the scheme.
Beechworth Lawn Tennis Club is challenging the legality of the federal government’s $100 million community sports grants program.
In a report in 2020, the auditor-general found the scheme favoured Coalition and marginal seats, noting the use of colour-coded spreadsheets and a memo that mentioned target seats for the 2019 federal election.
Senator McKenzie resigned as sports minister after it emerged she had membership of two gun clubs that received grants, including the Wangaratta Clay Target Club.
The tennis club was one of the few applicants knocked back for funding among 2056 proposals and is attempting to overturn the decision in the Federal Court.
It 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.
Its application met ASC criteria and had a merit score of 78 out of 100.
In 2020, the club said it had struggled for 20 years to upgrade its facilities and was devastated to miss out on the money.
On Tuesday, the court heard BLTC alleges the Australian Sports Commission – an independent statutory agency that oversaw the program – delegated its power to Senator McKenzie or was acting under her dictation.
Barrister Geoffrey Kennett, representing the tennis club, argued documents relating to the entire program needed to be handed over to establish if there was a pattern of behaviour.
“Both of those propositions call attention to the extent and critically the nature of the minister’s involvement in or influence over the decisions that are under challenge,” Mr Kennett said.
“Those issues are of course dependent on evidence, dependent on the facts of the individual case.
“The view that is reached about them may logically depend on interactions between the minister and commission other than the decision-making in relation to these particular grants.”
The ASC is willing to share documents connected to grant applications of BLTC and Wangaratta Clay Target Club, with its barrister Richard Knowles QC contending others are not relevant to the case.
“In any event, even if that test was not the one to which Your Honour would have regard, the discovery of those documents wouldn’t facilitate the just resolution of the proceeding as quickly, inexpensively and efficiently as possible,” he said.
In response to the statement of claim, Mr Knowles said the ASC admitted changes to the program were made between February 1 and 4 in 2019, at the request of the minister’s office but not direction.
“You say ‘well yes, we admit that but delete the phrase on directions from and insert requested’?”Justice David O’Callaghan asked.
Mr Knowles replied: “Exactly, Your Honour. That’s correct.”
Justice O’Callaghan has reserved a decision on the scope of the documents to be shared in the discovery phase, committing to finalise his judgment as soon as possible.