• jmcdonnell64

Surprise, Surprise! Marginal Seats Get More Handouts

Fifty years ago the Professor of Government at Sydney University, Henry Mayer, used to tell his bewildered political science students that the only sensible way to vote in an election was to vote against the winner. He argued that voting that way made your vote worth more. If a member of parliament got in by only one vote they would work like mad to ensure they were safer next time. Mayer thought that people who voted for the incumbent in a safe seat were idiots who deserved the paltry handouts they received from governments.

So when Senator Bridget McKenzie favored marginal seats in the handout of sports grants, she was following a time honored democratic tradition of rewarding the sensible voters. Moreover in the case of every grant there was a demonstrated need for the funding and the applicants were clearly eligible.

Mind you in some cases the political utility of the grant was dubious. A grant to the Mosman Rowing Club did nothing for Tony Abbott. The harbourside hooray Henry’s were always going to vote for a member who virtue signals about climate change but drives a gas guzzling SUV over a person who actually fights bush fires.

Of course the action that brought about the Australian National Audit Office’s assessment of the ‘Sports Rorts’ programme was one of the Coalition’s biggest electoral own goals. Liberal candidate, Georgina Downer, appeared on national television presenting a giant cheque to the Yankalilla Football Club with the member for Mayo, Rebekha Sharlie, nowhere to be seen. It was a cheap stunt that deserved to be punished.

The key point made by the audit office in its report was that Sports Australia had established a set of guidelines for handing out money such as getting more participation in sport and the capacity to implement the project and came up with a merit list. The minister used the same guidelines but added in the notion of a marginal seat. Since the guidelines entailed the making of implicit value judgements there is no objective reason why one list is any better than the other. Moreover the minister is answerable for her list in Parliament and will likely be fronting the Estimates Committee to justify her actions in February. On the other hand the bureaucrats are largely unaccountable for their decisions.

Ironically, when the grants were announced during the election campaign Labor invariably promised the same grants, if they were in government, presumably drawing on the same fund and the minister’s list.

The Greens have been outraged by the whole programme saying that the money should be diverted into bushfire relief. This must be one of the few times that they have been opposed to more government spending.

Is the public worried? Not if the responses in the media are any indication. Sports clubs that missed out because they were in non-marginal seats have adopted a ‘what do you expect’ demeanor and indicated their support for sporting bodies that did get new facilities. After all at some stage they will probably get to play on the new surfaces or use the new change rooms.

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