The National Disability Insurance Agency is paying online gambling agency Sportsbet $3.7 million to rent office space, raising questions about its spending of taxpayer funds.
- Tim Costello says the NDIA giving $3.7m in rent to Sportsbet is a “completely inappropriate use of taxpayer money”
- There are no rules banning Government agencies from entering into arrangements with betting companies
- A spokesperson for the NDIA says the agency rejects “any suggestion of improper spending”
The NDIA oversees Australia’s National Disability Insurance Scheme, which supports more than 430,000 Australians with disabilities.
7.30 can reveal the agency entered into the contract with Sportsbet in 2018 to sublet office space from the betting company. It plans to rent the office space located in the Mirvac building in Melbourne’s central business district until 2022.
The revelations that the NDIA paid a sports betting agency to lease a city office space has emerged at a time when Government Services Minister Stuart Robert has been doing a round of interviews highlighting alleged wastage from the disability scheme by participants.
Tim Costello, chief advocate of the Alliance for Gambling Reform, told 7.30 the arrangement was “distasteful, damaging and a completely inappropriate use of taxpayer money”.
“The fact it is the NDIS doing so is extraordinary,” he said.
“To think a gambling company is profiting off of rent from the NDIS leaves me almost lost for words.”
Mr Robert told 7.30 in a statement: “Any correlation between significant reforms delivering on the promise of the NDIS and operational or corporate decisions of the agency in 2018 is strongly rejected. It is an ambitious slur on the future of the NDIS and should be called out as such.”
A spokesman for the NDIA said: “As a Federal Government agency we have an obligation to ensure all contracts entered into — including property lease agreements — represent value for money, and therefore reject any suggestion of ‘improper spending’.
“The tenancy is strictly a standard commercial office sub-lease agreement. To suggest otherwise is wrong.
“We reject the premise procurement arrangements are inappropriate and risks normalising relationships between gambling companies and government agencies.”
No rules about taxpayer funds going to betting agencies
The arrangement with Sportsbet is the only instance 7.30 has been able to identify where a Federal Government agency has engaged in a contract that would see taxpayer funds be given to a sports betting agency.
There is no prohibition on government agencies entering into arrangements like these with gambling companies.
Ordinarily, leases that Commonwealth Government agencies enter into must be made within the Commonwealth property management framework and must also follow the Commonwealth Procurement Rules.
The procurement rules require that officials who enter into procurement arrangements carefully consider the use of public resources, and that agencies engage in “efficient, effective, economical and ethical procurement”.
The rules also require government agencies to disclose any contracts — and the manner in which they were awarded — on the publicly accessible Austender site.
But the NDIA was formed as a “Commonwealth corporate entity”, which largely exempts it from these procurement rules unless it is prescribed by the finance minister.
Corporate entities subject to those procurement rules include the Australian Human Rights Commission, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation and the Murray-Darling Basin Authority.
The NDIA has previously come under scrutiny for how it spends taxpayer funds on consultancy fees and remuneration for its senior members.
Concerns over draft changes to NDIS
Mr Robert has also flagged the government will soon release draft legislation to make changes to a range of areas within the scheme.
Some disability and support services are concerned the draft legislation may ultimately reduce scheme entitlements for current participants, and potentially make it harder for new participants to gain access to the NDIS.
Mr Robert told 7.30: “The Morrison government is delivering on the promise of the NDIS by introducing reforms that deliver on our commitment to all Australians to make the NDIS experience better and fairer.”
If you receive support through the National Disability Insurance Scheme or have worked at the NDIA and have a story you would like to share with 7.30, get in touch with us at ABC730tips@protonmail.com.