House of Representatives Committees

Rethinking the funding of community sporting and recreational facilities: A sporting chance

SUMMARY

Although the Commonwealth Government has given substantial funding for facilities required for the Olympic Games, it has not provided any assistance for community sporting and recreational facilities since the termination of the Community Cultural Recreational and Sporting Facilities Program in 1994.

The inquiry found that there was nearly universal support for the Commonwealth Government to re-enter the field of funding sporting and recreational facilities at the community level. It was argued that, because there was a national interest in stimulating sporting and recreational activity, the Commonwealth Government should support this activity. It is in the national interest that the Australian people are physically active and hence fitter and more healthy; there are advantages to the Australian economy in promoting sport and recreation; and sporting activity produces national and community benefits in terms of increased social cohesion and psychological well-being. Another reason that was advanced in favour of Commonwealth support for the provision of facilities was the Commonwealth Government's greater access to revenue compared with the States and Territories.

A role for the Commonwealth Government

The Committee concludes that there is a role for the Commonwealth Government in relation to providing sporting and recreational facilities and identified leadership at the national level as important in this respect (recommendation 1).

It was clear from the evidence received by the Committee that there is a large unmet demand for sporting and recreational facilities and there are many sporting and recreational groups eager for funding for their individual projects. However, the Committee considers that, except in the case of disadvantaged communities, simply making more funds available through a grants program is not the best way of responding to this demand. Rather, the Commonwealth Government should concentrate on assisting providers to make better use of existing facilities and the funds that are currently available at present from government and private sources.

An audit, database and plans

The Committee observes that the supply of sporting and recreational facilities has frequently been haphazard, and considers that expenditure on facilities would be more cost-effective if the siting and standard of facilities were better planned. The planning processes that the State, Territory and Local Governments have developed would be greatly assisted if better information were available on which to base decisions. The Committee recommends ongoing funding by the Commonwealth Government, with assistance from the States and Territories, to conduct a national audit of all sporting and recreational facilities and establish a regularly updated facilities database linked to geographic information systems (recommendations 3 to 7). It is essential that the audit include school and university facilities, facilities which are privately owned, and those on defence bases, as well as those owned by State, Territory and Local Government. Only with this coverage will a total picture of existing facilities be obtained.

The Committee also considers that funding should be provided for planning purposes: firstly for the production of a national plan for facilities which are suitable for international competition, and secondly to assist with regional planning by government authorities (recommendations 8 and 9).

Sharing facilities

It has been recognised for some time that school sports facilities, which are idle during holidays, evenings and weekends, could be better used. The same is true of tertiary institutions and some defence force bases. If these facilities were more available to the local community, more sporting and recreational opportunities would be available to the public and the need for the private sector or local government to develop parallel facilities would be avoided. The Committee recommends financial incentives to encourage the shared development and use of school, and university sporting and recreational facilities (recommendations 15 to 17). In addition, the Department of Defence should consider opening up its facilities to the public to a greater extent, building new facilities to designs that maximise the possibilities of public use of facilities, and developing new facilities jointly with local government (recommendations 18 to 20).

Facilitating funding of facility development

Several methods of providing financial help to the developers of facilities were considered by the Committee. They included:

Grants for facilities in disadvantaged communities

The Committee recognises that there are some communities that, despite the best efforts of the private sector, the local community, and State, Territory and Local Governments, will be unable to attract sufficient funds to acquire needed facilities. It is the Committee's view that the Commonwealth Government should ensure that all Australians have access to similar services. The Committee considers that disadvantaged communities should be assisted with the construction and substantial upgrade of sporting and recreational facilities (recommendation 12). It therefore recommends the establishment of a grants program for facilities in disadvantaged communities.

The criteria that should be satisfied before funding is granted to disadvantaged communities under this program are contained in recommendations 29 and 30. These criteria are designed to maximise the cost-effectiveness with which facilities are provided, and to avoid the use of public funds to displace private investment. They include the requirements that the community be encouraged to contribute financially towards the facility's development and on-going funding for recurrent costs is guaranteed. The method of distributing funds should be settled cooperatively by all levels of government and other stakeholders (recommendation 27).

Researching, collating and disseminating best practice information

A considerable demand was expressed to the Committee for more and better information about many aspects of the supply of facilities, for example, standards, design, management, shared development and use of facilities by different sections of the community, and making better use of existing facilities. The Committee considers that the Commonwealth Government should provide funding for the assembly and dissemination of information about best practice in relation to these topics (recommendations 11, 13, and 14). Best practice in joint ventures between the public and private sectors should be researched with a view to identifying barriers to joint ventures and disseminating information about best practice (recommendation 25).

An augmented Australasian Facilities Committee

The Australasian Facilities Committee (AFC) has a role in relation to the supply of sporting and recreational facilities in Australian, and is an appropriate body to carry out the tasks relating to best practice outlined in the previous paragraph. The Committee also considers that the AFC should co-ordinate the national audit of facilities. The AFC is, however, comprised only of government representatives, and the Committee takes the view that representatives of other interests (private sector, education, defence forces, and sport and recreation) should be co-opted on to the AFC for the purpose of addressing the tasks identified for it in this report (recommendation 5). By this means, the widest experience possible will be available to the AFC.

Funding for the activities recommended

The Committee proposes that $50 million a year be provided for the activities recommended above (recommendation 33). This level of funding is comparable to that supplied for Olympic facilities and past grants programs. In addition, a one-off payment of $100 million, possibly from interactive gambling or sports bonds, will be needed to establish the revolving loan fund.

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