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Prime Minister Morrison’s authority was sought in tainted sports grants program
The office of the Australian Prime Minister asked former Federal Sports Minister Bridget McKenzie to seek Scott Morrison’s “authority” for intended recipients of $100 million of sports grants and coordinate the announcement with Coalition campaign headquarters, according to new evidence to the ‘sports rorts’ inquiry.
The latest evidence from the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) to the Senate inquiry contradicts Prime Minister Morrison’s claims that Senator McKenzie was the ultimate decision-maker for the Community Sport Infrastructure Grant Program when sports minister and that changes were not made after parliament was dissolved.
On 27th February, Prime Minister Morrison told the House of Representatives that “there was no authorisation provided by me as prime minister on the projects”.
However, the ANAO today told the inquiry the request from the Prime Minister’s office to seek Scott Morrison’s “authority” prompted Senator McKenzie to write to the Prime Minister “consistent with this expectation” on 10th April, the day before the election was called. She attached a spreadsheet with the tables of recipients of grants summarised by state, political party and electorate.
The ANAO revealed that as the prime minister’s office asked for late changes on 10th and 11th April 2019, the day the election was called, it also asked for the $100 million program to be coordinated with campaign staff.
Prime Minister Morrison has never explained whether late changes to the community sport infrastructure grant program were made with proper authority, after Senator McKenzie revealed she had not signed off on any changes after 4th April last year.
Responding to a request about how many of the 136 emails exchanged between Prime Minister Morrison’s office and the former sports minister’s office between 17th October 2018 and 11th April 2019 contained a list of suggested projects, the ANAO has responded that 15 emails attached “a version of a project listing spreadsheet”, including 13 versions of the spreadsheet and nine with substantive changes.
In a table produced by the ANAO summarising the correspondence, it revealed that on 26th March 2019 “the prime minister’s office had advised the minister’s office that it was expected that the minister would write to the prime minister to seek ‘authority’ on the approved projects and inform the prime minister of the ‘roll out plan’”.
The table also reveals that on 25th March 2019, the Prime Minister’s office attached a version of the spreadsheet, asking if one project that had been removed was likely to receive funding and “noting that it was a priority for the local Coalition member”.
In question are nine projects added after Parliament was prorogued and the government entered caretaker mode at 8.30am on 11th April.
Senator McKenzie has said that she signed a final brief for the third and final round of sports grants and “did not make any changes or annotations to this brief or its attachments after 4 April 2019”.
The Senate select committee is set to call Senator McKenzie, who has continued to deny wrongdoing but so far failed to explain the Prime Minister’s office’s role in the program.
Prime Minister Morrison has said it was “not true” that the final list of projects was approved after the election was called, citing Sports Australia evidence that the final brief was dated 4th April.
27th February 2020 - Sport rorts inquiry implicates Prime Minister Scott Morrison
24th February 2020 - Federal Sports Minister considers big changes in Government funding arrangements
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
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