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Former Minister Bridget McKenzie defends role in sports grant allocations
Former Federal Government Minister Bridget McKenzie has broken her silence about the sports grants scandal that ended her frontbench career, defending her actions while conceding more could have been done to ensure public trust in a scandal-plagued pre-election program.
In a 20-page submission to a Senate inquiry, the former Federal Sports Minister insisted she had taken responsibility for her actions, having quit the frontbench earlier this year.
Defending her ministerial intervention in the program, Senators McKenzie said in a statement "I make no apology for exercising ministerial discretion.
"To do so was my prerogative, but more importantly, it was my responsibility."
Following the January release of a highly critical Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) report on the $100 million Community Sport Infrastructure Grants program, a series of revelations dogged the Federal Government for weeks.
It forced Senator McKenzie, who had moved on to become Federal Agriculture Minister after the Coalition’s May 2019 election victory, to resign from the ministry and as Nationals deputy leader and in February.
She did so after an investigation by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet found she breached ministerial standards by failing to disclose her membership of a gun club that received almost $36,000 from the grants program.
Senator McKenzie refuted the ANAO report finding that grants had been allocated towards marginal and target seats the Coalition hoped to win at last year's election, advising in her submission "I unequivocally reject this premise and the facts themselves contradict it."
With the National Audit Office report accusing Senator McKenzie's office of ignoring merit-based assessments made by Sport Australia, she wrote "I reject this interpretation and the facts refute it.
"My objective when exercising my ministerial authority was to see more communities benefit, across a wide range of sports and local clubs, to ensure the funding resulted in a fairer overall outcome, with more clubs funded across more regions than would otherwise have been the case.
"Whilst not my purpose, analysis shows more funding went to Labor-held electorates than Sport Australia had recommended. Only 26% of Sport Australia's recommendations were in Labor-held electorates. I increased this to 35%."
In respect of her membership of a gun club, she advised "I personally failed to declare two memberships to the Prime Minister in a timely manner and hence breached his ministerial standards.
"I took the appropriate action of ministerial responsibility under the Westminster system of accountability and resigned."
Senator McKenzie went on to reject the suggestion of a conflict of interest in awarding the grant to her club, adding “in effect, I was a member for approximately five days between visiting the club and signing off on the final approval of round two grants, and I received no material or financial benefit then or subsequently.”
Image: Senator Bridget McKenzie at the Wangarrata Clay Target Club. Facebook.
27th February 2020 - Sport rorts inquiry implicates Prime Minister Scott Morrison
23rd January 2020 - ‘Sports rorts’ review to be assessed by Prime Minister’s department
11th November 2019 - Marginal electorates benefit under ‘dodgy’ Federal Government sport grant scheme
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