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Former Minister Bridget McKenzie to give evidence at rorts inquiry
Federal Senator and former Australian Sports Minister has reportedly agreed to cooperate with a Senate inquiry into the allocation of funds from the $100 million Community Sport Infrastructure Grant Program.
As reported by Guardian Australia, Senator McKenzie has promised to “fulsomely cooperate” with the inquiry into the funding allocations, now commonly referred to as ‘sports rorts’.
Senator McKenzie made a submission to the opposition-led inquiry in April 2020, but the committee has asked for further information about her legal authority to make grants, and the process used to assess applications.
Having previously been reported as being unavailable to appear, Senator McKenzie has now agreed to attend for one hour on 22nd February.
Senator McKenzie was forced to resign as Minister for Sport for having not disclosed she was a member of a gun club which received close to $36,000 from the program.
Disputing claims that she had refused to appear, Senator McKenzie McKenzie has promised to “fulsomely cooperate” with the inquiry, writing “despite several requests, I am yet to receive a detailed statement of matters to be dealt with during my appearance that I haven’t already addressed in my submission nor ‘a transcript of relevant evidence already taken’ by the committee that would justify my need to attend for any other reason than a cheap political stunt.”
In January 2020, the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) released a scathing report finding the program was skewed toward Coalition marginal and target seats, with an assessment process in McKenzie’s office used to overturn Sport Australia’s recommendations.
The report also found it was “not evident” what her legal authority was to make grants - a point that will be tested in ongoing litigation by the Beechworth Lawn Tennis Club.
Despite her resignation, Senator McKenzie has never conceded any other wrongdoing in the administration of the program.
She has also argued she had already addressed relevant points in her written submission, citing passages claiming she had “ministerial discretion” to award grants and blaming the public service for failing to “resolve such legal issues” before the expenditure of taxpayer money.
She also claimed to have dealt with late changes to the list of final projects and communications between her office and the office of Prime Minister Scott Morrison about the program.
In September, the ANAO revealed Senator McKenzie directly pitched to Prime Minister Morrison on 28th November 2018 to expand the program from $30 million to $100 million, and her office sent him an indicative list of projects that could be funded.
Beechworth Lawn Tennis Club’s action
Lawyers for the Beechworth Lawn Tennis Club which was denied a grant under the program have launched a legal challenge against Sport Australia and Senator McKenzie’s administration of the scheme, arguing that Sport Australia “took direction” from the Federal Government and as a result grants “were not made on merit” but rather “nakedly political grounds”.
Parliament’s Joint Committee of Public Accounts and Audit Committee (JCPAA) recommended Sport Australia “seek legal advice to clarify the authority, duty and roles of the minister for sport and the Australia Sports Commission and report back to the committee the basis on which office holders in those roles can make decisions in future grants programs”.
Image: Senator Bridget McKenzie at the Wangarrata Clay Target Club. Facebook.
18th December 2020 - Australian Government announces $13.7 million funding to boost sporting integrity
10th December 2020 - Sport Australia launches new resources for community clubs
29th September 2020 - Expressions of interest sought for chairperson for Sport Australia
23rd January 2020 - ‘Sports rorts’ review to be assessed by Prime Minister’s department
22nd January 2020 - More than $1 million in sport grants given to nine clubs linked to Coalition MPs
17th February 2019 - Sport Minister McKenzie accepts ridicule in battle to combat obesity
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