Community Contributions Scheme – Stop the attack on Sport & Recreation

On Wednesday 14 August, I spoke in support of a motion from my colleague Mark Parton MLA, the Shadow Minister for Gaming & Racing. The ACT Labor-Greens Government has a clear agenda when it comes to the Community Contributions Scheme - they want to take revenue from clubs and siphon it to the Chief Minister's Charitable Fund. Whilst many would say, well the community still benefits, I have serious concerns about how this will impact on grassroots sport and recreation. Sporting clubs are not charities and do not service 'vulnerable' people according to this Government. And even if the money isn't taken for this purpose, why should the Government interfere with how Community Clubs spend their revenue and which causes they decide to support. The level of interference in our everyday lives by this mob has to end. 

I called on the Government to commit to making up any shortfall in funding for local sport and recreation as a result of changes to the Community Contributions Scheme. Surprise, surprise - they didn't make this commitment so the fight continues. 

Read my full speech on this important issue below:

I wish that I could say I am shocked to be standing here today defending community contributions but we are, after all, up against a Labor-Greens government that is hell-bent on punishing those in the community who speak out against them.

Certain clubs, like the Ainslie Group, the Southern Cross Club, the Raiders and the Vikings, just to name a few, had the courage to have an opinion at the last election. They spoke out about issues that make operating a club in Canberra more difficult than anywhere else in the country. In 2016 these clubs expressed a view, and ever since the Labor-Greens government has been determined to punish them.

The culture of fear in the ACT is very real. If those on the other side of this chamber believe that this is not the case, they are kidding themselves. We hear all the time of public servants, businesspeople and community leaders all with clear, strong views about the harm this government is causing, but almost none is willing to speak out. Why? Consequences, retribution and punishment are dealt out by this government. Here we are today seeing that play out with community clubs.

 

What upsets me most, what angers me more than the grudge this government holds against community clubs, is the flow-on effect that this will have on local sport and recreation. Community clubs provide a critical lifeline to local sports and recreation in Canberra. They support grassroots groups through financial support, free room hire, raffle prizes and equipment assistance. This is not to mention the various sporting facilities that clubs actually own and operate for the Canberra community, facilities like golf courses, ovals and even a yacht club. So why, you ask, is this government trying to tell clubs how to run their business and how to best support their community? Clubs know what they are doing. They listen to their membership and they support clubs and causes that patrons want to sponsor.

Under current arrangements the community clubs are required to give 8 per cent of gaming revenue in community contributions, and clubs are more than happy to do this. They give back well above the 8 per cent. Last year clubs exceeded this target, reaching 12 per cent. In fact last year community clubs provided $11.9 million in community contributions.

Do you know how much grant funding was provided to sport and recreation in the same period by this government? The answer is $2.4 million. For those of you who are not maths wizards, that equates to almost 400 per cent more support from clubs than from this government. With this financial support, community clubs help more than 1,000 local sport, recreation and community organisations. Do you know how many sporting groups received grants in the same period from this government? It was just 60. Again, this equates to almost 1,600 per cent more.

Why the statistics? Why point out something so obvious? I do so because this is what this government is threatening by targeting the community contributions scheme: thousands of volunteers who give up their free time to coach and train, run canteens, fundraise, write grant applications, approach corporate sponsors, mentor kids or just help out in the community. And let us not forget about the unsung heroes, the mums and dads, the uncles, the aunties and the friends and supporters. They are out there driving to games, washing uniforms and working out the family budget just so the kids can participate. This is the everyday reality of grassroots sport and recreation, and this is a reality that this Labor-Greens government clearly does not understand.

Let me share just some of the stories I have been receiving from grassroots sport and recreation groups, clubs that are genuinely concerned for their membership, their youth, their community and their future.

Let me explain the predicament of one local hockey club. This club has a proud history dating back to the 1950s. They have strong presence across all competitions. Many of their players, past and present, play on state and national teams. They are a great club, and they do lots to encourage juniors. They discount membership fees and try to help with travel expenses. This club relies on funding from local community clubs, and it is already discussing increasing fees if it loses this funding. These changes are only going to hurt local youth and families who already struggle to afford to participate and keep active.

Another great example of a local club is a social dance group that has been operating in the community for the past 30 years. This group relies almost solely on one particular club not just for a venue but for benefits provided to its members, things like lucky door prizes, raffles and Christmas parties. These extra benefits are important to many of the mature members who see this group as their only affordable source of entertainment. Again, this type of arrangement is under threat if community clubs are directed to surrender funds or spend them in particular ways. How will this group survive? What will happen to the members if they lose their regular get‑togethers?

 

Another example is a local music group who, even on conservative estimates, will see a $4,000 increase in costs if they lose the support of community clubs. This group exists to share a love of music with each other and with the community. They regularly perform at nursing homes, retirement villages and a range of Canberra events, even government-run free events. If changes to the community contributions scheme go ahead, it is likely that membership fees will need to be increased and, for many, participation will become unaffordable. Again, let us remember that this music group does not operate to compete or win tournaments. Instead it is a fun outlet for its members who provide the community with free music and entertainment. Why would the government want to jeopardise that?

The local hockey club helping young athletes progress to state and national representative sides, the social dancing group that provides such an important social and physical outlet for older Canberrans, the music group out entertaining our community, these three groups are only a small sample of the stories. I have heard from Probus clubs, special interest associations that run social events, rugby clubs, football clubs, music groups, choirs, tennis clubs, cricket clubs, golf courses, crafters and gamers, and the list goes on.

As the shadow minister for sport and recreation I implore this government to stop and to listen. Stop the attack on community clubs. Let go of what happened in 2016 when some of these clubs dared to speak out against you, and instead listen. Listen to the community consultation. We on this side of the chamber certainly have been. Mr Parton and I have received so many letters and thousands of contacts via social media about this issue. Just today an e-petition on this issue reached 1,000 signatures. The community are united on this issue and they want you to leave this scheme alone.

Sure, tighten up the governance. Make clubs report more directly about where contributions go. But at the end of the day this is club revenue. Clubs pay their taxes and they pay plenty of them. This is club revenue generated from club members. Let them decide how to spend it. Let them determine the local clubs and groups that they want to support.

Stop and listen. If you will not even do that, I think it is only fair that you promise the people of Canberra that you will make up for the shortfall. If you attack this scheme by taking much needed funds from grassroots sport and recreation and instead give it to the Chief Minister’s pet project and charitable fund, be sure to make up the shortfall. Let us refresh ourselves on the maths here.

Community clubs provided $11.9 million last year in community contributions. That is 400 per cent more than this government. Community clubs helped more than 1,000 sporting groups, recreation groups and community organisations. That is 1,600 per cent more than this government. I want to hear a commitment that you will make up the difference so that the sport and recreation community does not suffer.

Sport really is the glue that binds us all but it does not run on community spirit alone. Grassroots sport relies on community contributions, and this government needs to stop its campaign against clubs and listen to the needs of the community it is meant to serve.