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Former Sports Minister Bridget McKenzie bypassed Sport Australia board to authorise $2.5 million grant to Netball Australia

Former Sports Minister Bridget McKenzie bypassed Sport Australia board to authorise $2.5 million grant to Netball Australia
February 4, 2020

Former Federal Sport Minister Bridget McKenzie authorised a $2.5 million bailout grant for Netball Australia in 2018, bypassing the board of Sport Australia and, according to a news report, enraging Chairman John Wylie.

The Saturday Paper has reported that separate to the handling of Community Sport Infrastructure Grant Program that led to her resignation from Cabinet, Senator McKenzie, an declared netball fan and co-chair of the Parliamentary Friends of Netball, authorised the one-off payment to be made through the Federal Department of Health at a time when netball’s peak national body was struggling financially.

The grant application was not made through Sport Australia - then known as the Australian Sports Commission - and it played no role.

Through its Chairman, John Wylie, Sport Australia’s board blasted Federal Department of Health officials over their reasons for the special grant, which was made with few specified conditions.

Wylie argued the officials described the ordinary business challenges that all sporting bodies faced, rather than justification for a special payment. It contrasted with other organisations in similar circumstances - including the Australian Paralympic Committee and Cycling Australia  which had been offered only repayable loans.

Senator McKenzie authorised the grant after Netball Australia complained that the broadcast deal for its Super Netball series had not proved as lucrative as it had hoped.

The Saturday Paper has been told Wylie’s response was, effectively “too bad”, but he did not have the authority to block it.

Backed by his board, a furious Wylie later dispatched the Sport Australia auditors to undertake a governance review of Netball Australia.

It is understood Sport Australia later applied reporting requirements to the grant.

The Federal Department of Health first confirmed the existence of the $2.5 million grant, and the fact that it did not involve Sport Australia, during a Senate estimates committee hearing in 2018.

The Saturday Paper obtained further details last week.

A year after the 2018 netball grant, and a week before the Federal election, Prime Minister Morrison and Senator McKenzie, who by then was Regional Services minister, announced that a re-elected Coalition Government would award Netball Australia a further $30 million - also with no input from Sport Australia and no public detail about conditions.

That announcement followed a $20 million campaign promise from Labor.

A Federal Department of Health spokesperson confirmed last Thursday that the $30 million was part of the Federal Government’s $70 million Sport 2030 plan and is being paid over four years to fund a new high-performance Netball Australia centre in Melbourne and support young athletes playing the sport.

The first instalment, $2 million for a digital transformation project, was transferred in December 2019.

There is no further detail available on what the remaining $28 million will fund.

According to Sport Australia’s website, the netball body received a total of $2.94 million in yearly funding from Sport Australia in the 2018/19 financial year - in addition to the $2.5 million grant.

Although the department has confirmed that the special one-off grant was transferred via Sport Australia, it does not appear on the funding list because it was a ministerial decision.

In the current financial year, Netball Australia has been awarded $3.81 million in yearly funding.

It received another $500,000 across the two financial years under Sport Australia’s Move It AUS - Participation Program.

That ran alongside the Move It AUS - Community Sport Infrastructure grant program that was the subject of a damning 15th January  report by the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO), which found McKenzie had overridden Sport Australia’s merit-based assessment of grant applicants and run a separate and biased process aimed at winning seats in the upcoming election.

The report said there was no evident legal basis for Senator McKenzie’s decisions.

While Senator McKenzie resigned as deputy leader of the Nationals and her current role as Federal Minister of Agriculture on Sunday,  The Saturday Paper has suggested that the Federal Government now also faces a decision on the future of Sport Australia itself, after a not-yet-released review of the agency’s operations delivered scathing findings on its general governance.

Former Liberal Senator Rod Kemp, who served as Federal Sport Minister from 2001 to 2007, was tasked with examining the sports body and is understood to have produced a scorching assessment.

Lower image shows former Federal Sport Minister Bridget McKenzie promoting netball.

Related Articles

2nd February 2020 - Sports rorts scandal sees National deputy leader Bridget McKenzie resign from Government

29th January 2020 - Former Sports Minister Bridget McKenzie warned that sports grant program was compromised

25th January 2020 - Former Sports Minister Bridget McKenzie approved more than $1 million in grants for shooting clubs

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

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

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

30th November 2019 - Netball Australia recognises coaches, umpires and players

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

12th November 2019 - Sport Australia announces strengthening of National High Performance Sports Strategy

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

29th October 2019 - Sport Australia and Parks and Leisure Australia agree partnership

28th October 2019 - Perth’s Gold Netball Centre re-purposed for international judo competitions

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

25th October 2019 - Nissan secures naming rights partner for Queensland State Netball Centre

22nd September 2019 - Netball Queensland receives government funding to promote inclusivity

17th September 2019 - Suncorp Super Netball season sees sport reach largest ever audiences

5th September 2019 - Netball Australia advises of new approach to athlete wellbeing

28th June 2019 - Netball Australia and NSW Government plan bid to host 2027 Netball World Cup

26th June 2019 - Revitalised Fremantle netball hub gets official opening

24th June 2019 - Netball Australia to take no action against Maria Folau for supporting sacked rugby player husband Israel Folau

10th June 2019 - Sport Australia Chief Executive recognised in Queen’s Birthday Honours 

10th May 2019 - Netball Australia to further advance the sport across the Pacific

27th April 2019 - Suncorp Super Netball’s third season will feature ‘stronger, faster, fitter athletes’

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

25th February 2019 - Sport Australia launches second phase of ‘Move It AUS’ campaign

17th February 2019 - Sport Minister McKenzie accepts ridicule in battle to combat obesity

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