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Senate ‘sports rorts’ report says all recommended projects should be funded

Senate ‘sports rorts’ report says all recommended projects should be funded
March 19, 2021

A parliamentary inquiry into the ‘sports rorts’ scandal has recommended that the Federal Government should fund all projects recommended by Sport Australia but then rejected by former Federal Minister Bridget McKenzie.

Released yesterday, the Senate inquiry examining the $100 million Community Sports Infrastructure Grant program calls for clubs that missed out due to Senator McKenzie’s ministerial intervention - which the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) found skewed the program towards marginal and target seats - to receive funding belatedly.

The Opposition-controlled Upper House committee, chaired by Anthony Chisholm, concluded there was “overwhelming evidence” that the then Federal Sports Minister Bridget McKenzie and the Prime Minister's Office used the fund as a means of "gaining political advantage for Coalition candidates in the 2019 federal election by favouring applicants located in marginal and 'targeted' electorates" - although Coalition Senators disagreed.

Key findings from the report included:

• "Overwhelming" evidence the program was used to gain political advantage
• Nine out of the 10 electorates that received the most funding were identified as marginal or targeted electorates
• That the committee it faced "significant obstruction" in attempts to gather evidence

At the heart of the argument grants were awarded with political bias rather than on the merit of applications are the now-infamous colour-coded spreadsheets, first revealed by the ABC last year, which highlighted projects based on what electorate they were in.

There were more than two dozen versions of the spreadsheet prepared during the course of the program, showing applications that scored highly on a merit-based ranking system regularly missed out on taxpayer funds because they were not in marginal seats.

The inquiry report stated "the evidence available to the committee indicates clearly that the Prime Minister's office, and likely the Prime Minister, were aware of the use of electorate information to identify projects in marginal and targeted electorates well before the first grant recipient was announced.

"The minister's office made substantive changes to the list of approved projects during the course of the CSIG program, resulting in a shift from projects located in safe electorates to those located in Coalition-held electorates considered marginal or 'target' electorates held by the Australian Labor Party or Independent candidates.

In February, Senator McKenzie finally yielded to demands and testified she was proud of the way the program had been managed.

Senator McKenzie insisted that while the Prime Minister had been consulted about the allocation of grants, he had not made any decisions on successful clubs.

Of projects by electorate turned the program into a “$100 million pre-election slush fund”.

Other than a conflict of interest with one grant recipient that prompted her resignation, Senator McKenzie has consistently denied any wrongdoing in the administration of the program.

The majority report concluded there were “significant unanswered questions” about the program due to “obstruction and lack of transparency by the government”.

It cited 20 instances where the Federal Government blocked access to documents by claiming release would harm the public interest or breach cabinet confidentiality or the privacy of sports grants applicants.

The committee recommended a further review of Sport Australia and other agencies’ powers to make grants.

It recommended the Senate attempt to force the Federal Government to release documents including:

• The legal advice about Sport Australia’s authority to make the grants.
• The full list of applications recommended for funding by Sport Australia.
• An internal report by the Prime Minister's Office that cleared Senator McKenzie of all wrongdoing except the conflict of interest.

In the minority report, Liberal Eric Abetz and National Matt Canavan said the program was an “outstanding success”, noting that Labor had never opposed any of the successful grant recipients receiving funding.

Images: Former Federal Sports Minister Bridget McKenzie pictured at the reopening of the Wangaratta Indoor Sport and Aquatic Centre today (top) and Liberal candidate Georgina Downer, the daughter of former Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer, presents a novelty cheque for $127,000 to a South Australian bowling club - instead of the sitting local MP - in the lead up to the May 2019 election (below).

Related Articles

1st February 2021 - First woman named as Chair of Australian Sports Commission

14th February 2020 - Australian Sports Commission issues statement in response to media claims on spending

10th December 2020 - Sport Australia launches new resources for community clubs

30th October 2020 - Latest Sport Australia AusPlay survey results focus on early impact of COVID-19 on sport and activity

19th January 2021 - Former Minister Bridget McKenzie to give evidence at rorts inquiry

30th April 2020 - Former Minister Bridget McKenzie defends role in sports grant allocations

12th March 2020 - Former Federal Sports Minister Bridget McKenzie could be personally liable over infrastructure grants

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

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

11th May 2020 - Prime Minister Morrison denies misleading Parliament over involvement in sports rorts

27th February 2020 - Sport rorts inquiry implicates Prime Minister Scott Morrison

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

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

15th February 2020 - Report from Secretary to Prime Minister’s Department rejects Audit Office finding that sports grant program targeted marginal electorates

13th February 2020 - National Audit Office advises 43% of successful Federal Government sports fund projects were ineligible

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

16th April 2019 - MP presents $1.5 million novelty cheque to sports club despite funds not being approved

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