The legal challenge against the sport was withdrawn after the tennis club received alternative funding

The legal challenge against the sport was withdrawn after the tennis club received alternative funding

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The legality of the Morrison government’s so-called $ 100 million sports infrastructure program may never be tested in court because a tennis club that lost its funds abandoned its challenge.

The Beechworth Lawn Tennis Club withdrew the case in federal court after winning half of the funding for his project from the Victorian government, a $ 250,000 grant that put him at risk of a potential discovery of the case against Sport Australia was no longer useful. practice.

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Club president Andy Carr told Guardian Australia it was a “difficult decision to make, particularly as I had a high level of confidence that we would win the legal argument” that Sport Australia “acted illegally” and not. complied with the requirements of the Community Sports Infrastructure Grant Program.

Beechworth launched the challenge in mid-2020, asking the court to overturn Sport Australia’s decision by refusing a $ 500,000 grant in part due to the parallel evaluation of projects conducted by the office of then sports minister Bridget McKenzie.

Judge David O’Callaghan on Thursday dismissed the case by consent, without a cost injunction.

Carr said the result was “not a good reflection of actual justice” because the club was still short of $ 250,000 for the proposed project.

“We were able to build our own tennis courts, but now we have a concrete slab instead of a clubhouse, restrooms and changing rooms… for our members and for our community.

“More than that: we had not had tennis facilities in our town for more than three years … and that entirely covered the period of some pretty stiff blocks in Victoria, and tennis was one of the few sports that could continue. somehow through That. “

Carr said he took his daughter to nearby Myrtleford “so she could play tennis on Saturday mornings,” a 60km round trip, while “many people have stopped playing tennis” due to a lack of structures.

“It is unacceptable and disappointing for the club, we have been all that time without fields that we probably should have had.”

Carr said that the Morrison government’s sports infrastructure program “clearly demonstrates the need for a federal integrity commission,” so the clubs had some form of appeal prior to the prosecution against the government, which he described as a “classic battle between David and Goliath”.

Maurice Blackburn’s principal Josh Bornstein said that while the company was “proud to have undertaken the fight against sporting errors on behalf of our client, this is far from perfect.”

“The Beechworth Lawn Tennis Club is a small community sports organization run by volunteers and shouldn’t find law firms willing to act pro bono to challenge the validity of the politicized sport break program.”

Beechworth argued that Sport Australia had inappropriately taken directions from the Morrison government on which projects to finance.

He had also asked the court to cancel a $ 35,980 grant to the Wangaratta Clay Target Club, which McKenzie had not claimed to be a member in violation of ministerial standards, resulting in his resignation in February 2020.

Sport Australia admitted that the Beechworth project was included in funding recommendations to the minister’s office on April 3, 2019.

Beechworth said that on April 11, 2019, McKenzie’s office returned a signed brief that excluded the Beechworth project, one of 184 that Sport Australia had recommended and which were subsequently not approved.

The $ 100 million sports infrastructure program was the subject of a scathing report by an auditor general which found that McKenzie’s office had skewed the program towards targeted and marginal seats.

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In its defense, Sport Australia argued that McKenzie selected the projects but did not approve the final grants, arguing that their guidelines suggesting otherwise were wrong and based on a “model” from the finance department.

Sport Australia insisted on keeping the final say on which applications would be approved for funding despite a flurry of belated changes to grant recipients requested by the former Federal Sports Minister or his office.

McKenzie consistently denied wrongdoing in connection with the program, insisting that she was not inappropriately influenced by whether the projects were located in marginal or target locations.

A spokesperson said Sport Australia “is pleased that the proceedings have been closed with the consent of the parties”.

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