The supreme social service body in New South Wales is withdrawing from the ClubGrants program following revelations that the program lacks proper governance, accountability and transparency.
The NSW Council for Social Service (NCOSS) has told its 450 member groups and the state government that it no longer has confidence in the program that is supposed to redistribute tax breaks on the profits of big club poker machines to community groups that help the poor and disadvantaged.
A scathing report on the program said council members were angry with clubs treating the grants as their money “to be spent as they see fit”.
NCOSS CEO Joanna Quilty told the ABC her organization will no longer be part of the local ClubGrants committees that help make recommendations on which groups to fund.
“It is clear that the clubs do not have to accept the recommendations of the local committee,” she said.
“They can, in fact, bypass the local committee altogether and are really the only decision-makers when it comes to awarding these grants.”
ABC Investigations has revealed that NSW’s largest club, West HQ, ignored recommendations from its local ClubGrants committee on which projects to fund.
According to ClubGrants guidelines, large clubs are expected to fund 75 percent of their Category 1 grants based on recommendations from local committees.
In 2019, West HQ did not fund any of the recommended programs, but instead chose projects it wanted to fund, including a think tank led by one of its lobbyists and a fun run it had a deal with. sponsorship.
Ms Quilty says it is important for the NSW system to change so that the ClubGrants guidelines can be enforced.
âWe are talking about taxpayer funds. And the community has expectations about how grant programs involving taxpayer funds should be managed,â Ms. Quilty said.
“We need to make sure that these grants actually go to projects that will help low-income and disadvantaged people, ensuring that clubs are meaningfully engaged in the local committee process, that local committees exist there. where they need to exist, and that there is proper accountability and reporting to the work place committee and the public on how these funds have been spent. â
Clubs “ignore” board advice, members say
The NCOSS movement is significant.
The organization has been part of the ClubGrants program from the start.
He was involved in the development of its guidelines and his initial involvement was essential in gaining support from the opposition and all the benches for the legislation that helped establish the regime.
NCOSS conducted its own review of the ClubGrants program after warning the NSW government that it was considering opting out of the committee process two years ago.
“NCOSS members have long feared that many clubs ignore local committee advice, view grant funding as ‘their money’ to be spent as they see fit, and in some cases fail to comply with requirements. basic guidelines. “
The report said that NCOSS’s continued involvement in ClubGrants raised âethical considerationsâ as the organization was dedicated to making âNSW free from poverty and disadvantageâ.
He noted that ClubGrants funding comes from losses on poker machines and that “people who regularly lose money playing slots are more likely to have low incomes and / or be successful. of a disadvantaged demographic group “.
NCOSS decision follows Western Sydney Community Forum
NCOSS is not the only welfare organization to have raised ethical concerns about ClubGrants.
In 2019, the Western Sydney Community Forum, the leading local body for social services, withdrew from the local ClubsGrant committees it served on in Parramatta, Fairfield, Liverpool and Blacktown.
CEO Billie Sankovic said the organization can no longer support a system that extracts huge sums of money from the 2 million people who live in the great west of Sydney and does not put those profits to a better use for fight against social disadvantages.
“There just has to be a better way to fund local and essential services. It is vital that funding is directed where it is most needed,” he said.
Ms. Sankovic says damage from poker machines is driving the need for more social services.
“We are hearing from local level agencies across the Great West of Sydney that there was an increase in referrals from people locally who were being harmed as a result of gambling activities.”
Recommendations for the redesign of ClubGrants
As NCOSS moves away from the current system, it has submitted a list of recommendations to the NSW government to revise the ClubGrants program, including:
- Amend the guidelines to incorporate the oversight and control role envisioned for local committees under the Slot Tax Act 2001 so that tax breaks are not granted to clubs that fail to comply with the guidelines
- Require the regulator to actively apply the guidelines
- Consider alternative arrangements for independent representation of the community sector in the program
The customer service department had previously committed to reviewing the ClubGrants program guidelines in 2021.
In a statement, he said: “The current circumstances have resulted in a reset of priorities. A revised timeline for the review has yet to be determined.”
The minister responsible for gambling in New South Wales, Victor Dominello, was not available for comment.
A spokesperson for ClubsNSW said the ClubsGrants program has been operating successfully for more than 20 years and more than $ 1.5 billion has been distributed to community groups and people in need.
“The guidelines are legally enforceable. Ultimately, if a club violates these guidelines, they lose their refund and have to pay taxes to the NSW government,” the spokesperson said.
âAs clubs determine how their club grants are distributed, they consult extensively with the board and various other local stakeholders.
“There is always more demand for ClubGrants than can be donated in any one year, and those who miss may question the value of other grantees, but the NSW community benefits tremendously from the program.”