Pauline Hanson takes credit for $23m Coalition grant to build 16,000-seat stadium in Rockhampton | Pauline Hanson
One Nation leader Pauline Hanson has personally taken credit for a $23m taxpayer-funded federal grant to build a stadium in Rockhampton, announcing the government’s decision to fund it with a novelty cheque bearing her face.
In a Facebook post showing her delivering the cheque to the Rocky Sports Club on Monday, Hanson cites dinner with prime minister Scott Morrison and finance minister Mathias Cormann last September as evidence her lobbying won the funds.
The decision was announced jointly with the Nationals MP Michelle Landry, who described it as an LNP government commitment and later hit back at “naysayers and trolls who said I had nothing to do with the Rocky Stadium”.
Labor senator Murray Watt has blasted the “jointly arranged announcements” which he said “show the Morrison government is willing to use $23m of taxpayers’ funds to help Hanson and the LNP campaign together for the Queensland state election”.
Both Hanson and Landry have used the federal money to boost their parties’ candidates for the Queensland election on 31 October.
Rocky Sports Club co-founder, Gavin Shuker, said that Hanson and Landry had both been behind the project since it was proposed three years ago and it “wouldn’t have happened” without them.
“Pauline was lobbying Mathias Cormann and talking to the prime minister and Michelle was doing her thing,” he told Guardian Australia.
“It’s pretty unusual, but they’ve secured the money somehow.”
Shuker said the pair attended a presentation together on Monday, with media advisers organising for Hanson to speak first and Landry second.
Despite the joint announcement, only Hanson had the frivolous idea to print a novelty cheque.
The cheque purports to be from the “Australian Federal Parliament” rather than the federal government.
Landry, by contrast, posted a video and several photos including one showing LNP candidate Tony Hopkins was present at the announcement.
It was a novelty cheque with Liberal candidate for Mayo Georgina Downer’s face on it that sparked an audit office inquiry into the community sport infrastructure grant program, eventually causing then sports minister Bridget McKenzie to resign over a conflict of interest.
A spokesperson for the deputy prime minister, Michael McCormack, explained the federal government has committed “up to $23m” towards the Rockhampton stadium, to be delivered through the community development grants program.
The program allows one-off grants that are not open to competitive applications, although they must meet basic guidelines including a requirement to undergo an assessment the project cost is value for money.
Labor has previously complained that vehicles for one-off grants such as the community development grants program have no meaningful checks to prevent partisan distribution of funds.
Watt told Guardian Australia: “If anyone needed further proof that the LNP and One Nation are cut from the same cloth this is it.
“It’s disappointing that Scott Morrison and Pauline Hanson continue to play politics, arm in arm.
“Pauline Hanson votes with the government the overwhelming majority of the time in the Senate. It makes sense that she’d now be making funding announcements with them.
“The government needs to explain what arrangement they have come to with Pauline Hanson regarding the announcement of taxpayers’ funds.”
Both McCormack and Landry’s spokespersons said questions around the novelty cheque should be directed to Hanson.
“I did ask if I can take this down to the National Australia Bank and was told ‘it’ll probably bounce’ – I reckon it will bounce for certain,” Shuker said.
He said the grant has not actually been delivered yet, but funding is guaranteed contingent on local approvals and contracts being signed. The club aims to complete approvals by April to deliver the project by February 2021.
A spokesperson for Cormann said the government had committed to fund “a new iconic landmark for central Queensland” after “representations from a range of local stakeholders”.
“The government receives representations from local MPs and senators in support of potential local infrastructure projects on a regular basis,” she said.
“We always engage constructively with all local members of parliament making representations to the government on behalf of their electorates.”
Hanson has used the stadium grant to promote One Nation’s Keppel candidate, Wade Rothery. In a Facebook video with her chief of staff, James Ashby, Hanson said Rothery had brought the project to her attention about two years ago.
Rockhampton – a city of 80,000 people – will get a stadium with the same capacity as some professional league grounds, despite hosting no team in the NRL, AFL, or A-League.
The new Rocky Stadium will have capacity for 16,000, the same as Canberra’s Manuka Oval, which hosts cricket and AFL games.
Hanson said Rockhampton needed a stadium of that size because the city lost the opportunity to host an Elton John concert because they didn’t have a big enough venue.
She also took aim at “this Labor government” – accusing the Palaszczuk government of neglecting central Queensland.
Shuker denied the grant had anything to do with the election.
“[Hanson and Landry] are just fighting for something for the community, it’s not about election promises,” he said
“We’ve got a state election coming up but it’s federal money – it’s got nothing to do with election promises.
“I tip my hat to both of them, for thinking about the community.”
Guardian Australia contacted Hanson and Morrison for comment.