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Executive who worked on Infrastructure Grant Program no longer at Sport Australia

Executive who worked on Infrastructure Grant Program no longer at Sport Australia
January 24, 2020

A senior Sport Australia executive identified in last week’s scathing Australian National Audit Office report no longer works for the government agency.

Found to have had an undeclared conflict of interest in the allocation of funds from the now discredited Community Sport Infrastructure Grant Program, the Auditor-General’s report suggested that the executive, who Australasian Leisure Management understands was Robin O'Neill, may have favoured sports, primarily tennis, in which he had a vested interest.

O'Neill left his position as Executive Director, Strategy and Partnerships at Sport Australia in October last year after 19 months in the role, reportedly under threat of dismissal. Prior to joing Sport Australia he had worked at Tennis Australia for more than a decade.

Sport Australia Chief Executive, Kate Palmer, who is stepping down from her position this month, emphasised that she was not the executive referenced in the report, although Australasian Leisure Management understands that having to defend the allocation of funds by then Federal Sport Minister Bridget McKenzie’s office influenced her decision to leave the role.

Senator McKenzie, who now holds the Agriculture portfolio, ignored many of the recommendations of Sport Australia, in a process where Sport Australia and Senator McKenzie's Department of Sport ran parallel recommendation procedures.

However, Sport Australia, concerned at how the department had ultimately awarded the grants, conducted their own inquiry into the Sport Australia process, leading to the resignation of the senior executive.

Senator McKenzie is facing pressure to quit, with the report into her handling of sporting grants due to be released over the coming days.

Nevertheless, Sport Australia insists no single sport received an unfair advantage, although this does not preclude Senator McKenzie having reprioritised projects over the ones the Sport Australia executive may have endorsed.

Sport Australia said in a statement “the overwhelming majority of successful applications for the Community Sport Infrastructure grants were for multi-sport, multi-purpose facilities, benefiting numerous participation sports and the local community.”

Former Federal Sports Minister Rod Kemp was asked in September to conduct a functions and efficiency review of Sport Australia and the Australian Institute of Sport.

It is unusual for a former federal minister to conduct a review of his old portfolio and his report, completed in late December, will be tabled in Cabinet on 3rd February.

The report is likely to be studied ahead of advice received from the Secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Phil Gaetjens, on whether Senator McKenzie breached ministerial standards in approving some grants.

The Auditor-General, in his report, said of the senior Sport Australia employee “there is a risk that the sport linked to this organisation (the executive's former employer) was provided with a competitive advantage compared to other sports and potential applications by that Sport Australia employee.”

Low morale and reduced budgets have seen a number of Sport Australia executives depart in recent months.

In addition to Palmer's upcoming departure, former Sport Australia, General Manager - Marketing, Customer Insights and Analytics, Louise Eyres left in December.

Related Articles

23rd January 2020 - ‘Sports rorts’ review to be assessed by Prime Minister’s department

23rd January 2020 - ‘Sports rorts’ scandal: Revelation that upmarket golf, rowing and tennis clubs received major grants

20th January 2020 - NSW Government under pressure over allegations of biased sport grant allocations

16th January 2020 - Audit Office sports grants report cites ‘conflict of interest’ at Sport Australia

15th January 2020 - Audit Office report confirms that Federal Government targeted marginal seats with potentially illegal sports grants

11th December 2019 - Kate Palmer apologises for ‘unauthorised access’ following Sport Australia email hack

6th December 2019 - Prime Minister Morrison abolishes Department of Communications and Arts as part of public service restructure

30th November 2019 - AIS and Sport Australia look to increase leadership depth and diversity in sport

11th November 2019 - Marginal electorates benefit under ‘dodgy’ Federal Government sport grant scheme

8th November 2019 - Sport Australia advice ignored by former Federal Sports Ministers in award of community sport infrastructure funds

28th October 2019 - Kate Palmer to step down from Sport Australia Chief Executive role

5th August 2019 - Sport Australia releases Corporate Plan to guide increases in participation in sport and physical activity

20th May 2019 - Federal Government Community Sporting Infrastructure Grants invests over $100 million

4th April 2019 - Sport Australia’s John Wylie welcomes Federal budget funding boost

13th February 2019 - Sport Australia welcomes creation of new integrity agency


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