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Questions asked around Mackay Park Federal Funding

Is the Federal Government grant of $25m for the Mackay Park Leisure Centre embroiled in the latest Community Sport Infrastructure Program controversy regarding the Government's $100 million pre-election sports grants scheme? No. The $25 million, granted to the project, came instead from the equally controversial Regional Growth Fund. On April 1st, 2019 the then Federal Member for Gilmore, Ann Sudmalis revealed federal funding of $25 million for the construction of the Regional Aquatic, Arts and Leisure Precinct at Mackay Park, Batemans Bay saying "the project is great news for the region following a highly competitive assessment process that saw more than 300 applications being received from state, territory and local governments, businesses and not-for-profit organisations." At the time then Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Michael McCormack said “The Regional Growth Fund is specifically designed to fund projects that have been carefully assessed as having real potential to generate jobs and economic growth in regional communities across Australia.” Member for Gilmore Ann Sudmalis announced in October 2018 that $25M had been assigned to the Mackay Park project and invited Council to submit a full business case to the Regional Growth Fund for assessment. The Regional Jobs and Investment Packages originated from a 2016 election commitment to establish a $200 million program to deliver regional jobs and growth. In August 2017 Council adopted a preliminary concept and business case. In October 2018, the Australian Government assigned $25M to the project in the Regional Jobs and Investment Packages Fund, and invited Council to submit a full business case to the Regional Growth Fund for assessment. A formal request by for that application has been refused by Council so the application details and business case presented remain unseen. What is known however is that the business plan adopted by Council in August 2017 WAS NOT a full business plan and clearly advised it was NOT to be used for the purpose of grant applications. Between October 2018 and April 2019 the application for the $25m was assessed and found to comply. Administration of the program is the responsibility of the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Cities and Regional Development (Infrastructure) with the assessment process outsourced. The Auditor General has however noted in their audit of a subsequent round of Regional Growth Fund Grants that the outsourcing of grants presents risks relating to assurance of quality, compliance and accountability. Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) audit activity has also highlighted the risks where assessment of grant applications does not verify the claims of applicants or ensure the assessment criteria are applied in full. The requirement for a FULL BUSINESS CASE on the Eurobodalla's Regional Jobs and Investment Packages Fund grant application was put in place to ensure the assessors of the application considered if the Eurobodalla shire residents had the financial capacity to meet the ongoing financial responsibilities of the project and asset in terms of future operational costs and depreciation based on auditable projected incomes. The only document that Council could have put forward as their 'evidence' was the generalised (and flawed) Otium Business Case. So why was the Mackay Park grant application given a stamp of approval without the provision (as required)of a FULL Business case? This question was asked of Ann Sudmalis to which she responded that "all questions should be directed to Council's Director of Planning, Mr Lindsay Usher". The Australian National Audit Office found and revealed that the assessment processes for a seperate round of Regional Jobs and Investment Packages (that included Gilmore) were "not to the standard required by the grants administration framework" and that "there was insufficient evidence that each of the more than 60 individuals that undertook the assessments received adequate training." Coincidentally the Australian National Audit Office audit of that round also found: "There were shortcomings in the assessments undertaken against the second merit criterion. This criterion was directly relevant to the program achieving its intended economic outcomes, including in relation to job creation. An assurance review contracted by Infrastructure identified that applicant claims were being taken at face value without appropriate scrutiny. In relation to this criterion and two of the three other criteria, the Panel recorded that more than 20 per cent of applications had been incorrectly scored by the assessors." "Reasons for funding decisions were documented. There was a high incidence of funding recommendations not being agreed to with the Ministerial Panel not approving 28 per cent of applications the department had recommended, and instead approving 17 per cent of applications that had not been recommended (the proportion of overturn decisions increased over time)." (source) Might this finding also apply to the round that awarded $25 million from the Regional Jobs and Investment Package for the Mackay Park pool? That presently is unknown. And why was the Regional Jobs and Investment Packages 'sucess' announced on April 1st, 2019 at the Batemans Bay pool with only Ann Sudmalis, Andrew Constance, Liz Innes and a prominent local Liberal Party member; with no media press call?

Footage above provide to the Beagle by members of Fight for the 50m pool who happened to be at the Batemans Bay pool when this 'cheque handover' ceremony was being made recorded for media release distribution. Ann Sudalis left her office as the Member (for the now very marginal seat) for Gilmore ten days later on April 11th 2018. Like the current National Party deputy leader Bridget McKenzie Sporting Grants controversy that allegedly applied to marginal seats it has been suggested by many that the timing of the awarding of the $25m grant in the lead up to an election, without the evidence of due diligence and scrutiny of a FULL Business case (as required), and with the interference of Eurobodalla Council to provide a copy of the application under FOI, the awarding on April 1st 2019 may have been a way of attempting to secure desperately needed votes in what was becoming a seat that the Liberals would surely lose without offering inducements. So, is the Mackay Park project embroiled in the Bridget McKenzie Sporting Grants controversy? NO Are there still major questions around the Federal Government $25m grant? YES And questions remain around the failed grant application of $26.5m to the NSW Department of Sport for the Mackay Park Centre (and the continued refusal of Eurobodalla Councl to release the application under FOI) that saw instead an announcement out of the blue from the NSW Premier on 26th March 2018 that the money would be forthcoming instead from the NSW Regional Communities Development Fund . The following day, 27th March 2018, Eurobodalla councillors reaffirmed their commitment to the concept design of the new Regional Aquatic, Arts and Leisure Centre at Mackay Park, Batemans Bay delivered as a Mayoral Report offering the Councillors only 15 minutes to digest a 1600 word report before adopting it. By doing so the councillors set in place the demise of the Batemans Bay 50m pool and the subterfuge, the secret invitation only meetings, the declaration that business plans are not to be publicly available for reasons of 'Commercial in Confidence' and the string of actions they have applied that now leaves the entire project with a very strong smell of excrement and a bitter distrust of the Council in how they have dealt with this project from the start, how it has been funded, and whether Eurobodalla Council actually has the capacity to oversee the project without imposing considerable a long term financial burden on the community for a facility that has been compromised from the outset. And still we have no final design as pool widths and depths are lessened and seating capacity of a theatre that has no demand nor audience is further reduced. And still we have no costs of either construction nor projected running costs, projected incomes or expenditures. To the casual onlooker this is NOT the way to run a cost covering business. In the private sector the business would fold. In the public sector the ratepayer will be asked to contribute more. With 'no skin in the game' there is NO risk of any financial loss to Council staff or Councillors if they fail. The public will pay, come what may.

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