Coalition Senators would like to thank all of the organisations that have provided submissions and input to this inquiry. We would especially like to recognise the efforts of those voluntary sporting organisations that have taken the time to inform the Committee of many worthwhile projects and inform us of their experience in the administration of the Community Sport Infrastructure Grant Program (CSIG program).
The Liberal National Government has made record investments in sporting infrastructure across Australia through our Government’s National Sport Plan – Sport 2030 – of which the CSIG program is one component. Sport is not only essential for the health and wellbeing of Australians; it is one of the best ways to help grow and bind communities, especially in our smaller towns. We remain committed to making further investments in sporting infrastructure and this inquiry has highlighted how many worthwhile projects there remain to be funded.
Liberal National Senators have engaged constructively in this inquiry and there are worthwhile lessons for the Government to heed as a result of inquiries into the CSIG Program. It has therefore been unfortunate and disappointing that non-Government Senators have politicised this inquiry. Rather than seeking to find solutions for many worthwhile and much-needed sporting infrastructure projects, this inquiry has been unnecessarily dragged out seemingly with the objective of making political points against the Government across the 11 public hearings.
The delivery of the interim report is yet another example of the politically charged approach to this inquiry.
As the interim report recognises it has been a longstanding practice of successive Australian Governments (of both political persuasions) not to disclose privileged legal advice. The Government’s position to claim public interest immunity over this legal advice is consistent with this past practice. For example, former Attorney-General, Senator Gareth Evans AC, QC in 1995 explained his Government’s position on this practice:
Nor is it the practice or has it been the practice over the years for any government to make available legal advice from its legal advisers made in the course of the normal decision making process of government, for good practical reasons associated with good government and also as a matter of fundamental principle.
The Government’s position is aligned to this longstanding practice, which enables governments to receive privileged legal advice to inform its positions. This is critical to the development of Commonwealth policy and to robust lawmaking. This rule applies generally as a matter of precedent given the public release of legal advice on a single issue would then call into question whether future legal advice could be made public at some stage. If that became a concern it would materially change the form and content of legal advice to governments and that could substantially harm the ability of any Commonwealth governments’ ability to govern.
In addition, in this particular case, a Government agency is facing legal action in relation to the CSIG program in the Federal Court. Given the ongoing nature of this court action, the Government is well within its rights to claim the protection of sub judice and this is an entirely appropriate position for any government subject to court proceedings.
The Employment, Workplace Relations and Education Legislation Committee distributed a paper during the May 2005 Senate Estimates hearings listing potentially acceptable grounds for claims to public interest immunity. The first of the grounds that had attracted some measure of acceptance in the Senate was ‘prejudice to legal proceedings’.
For the reasons outlined above, Liberal National Senators do not agree with the Committee’s recommendation to move a motion in the Senate requiring the production of legal advice. The Government is relying on the accepted principle of not prejudicing legal proceedings as a grounds for public interest immunity.
The Liberal National Government remains committed to being involved in the Administration of Sports Grants Select Committee. Liberal National Senators recommend that the Committee seek to conclude this inquiry as soon as possible so we can provide a way forward for the many voluntary sports organisations that seek to acquire much-needed government investment in their infrastructure.
Senator the Hon Matthew Canavan
Senator the Hon Eric Abetz