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Sport Australia admits failing to tell Senate about second former Minister’s email

Sport Australia admits failing to tell Senate about second former Minister’s email
March 4, 2020

Sport Australia has been forced to correct the record after conceding that it omitted to tell a Senate inquiry that it had received a second set of instructions from former Federal Sport Minister Bridget McKenzie on the day Prime Minister Scott Morrison called the 2019 national election.

Sport Australia, which administered the controversial Community Sport Infrastructure Grant Program acknowledged the error during a Senate estimates hearing today, having waited several days before making the admission.

As reported by Guardian Australia, Sport Australia executives also told the estimates committee they had met with current Federal Sports Minister, Richard Colbeck, before giving evidence at Wednesday’s hearing, and that Senator Colbeck told the committee he had met with two of Prime Minister Morrison’s advisers on Tuesday night because it was “incumbent on me to understand the broader situation” before fronting an estimates hearing.

Before Wednesday’s appearance at estimates, Sport Australia had previously given evidence that Senator McKenzie sent the agency a signed brief, dated 4th April, and an attached list of successful grant recipients, at 8.46am on 11th April - the day the Federal Parliament was prorogued.

The Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) - the agency whose January report detailed the irregular allocation of funds from the Program - told a different story on Monday night.

The ANAO told an estimates hearing its records indicated that Senator McKenzie’s office sent another email to the Prime Minister’s office at 12.35pm on 11th April, with different grants.

One project was deleted and another nine were added before, at 12.43pm, Senator McKenzie’s office sent that material to Sports Australia.

Luke McCann, Chief operating Officer at Sport Australia, acknowledged he was in error by failing to mention the second contact from Senator McKenzie’s office on 11th April. He said a correction to the evidence was being prepared - although Senator Colbeck, the responsible minister, said he didn’t regard the omission as “misleading the Senate”.

McCann was asked what explanation Senator McKenzie’s office gave Sport Australia for sending a brief with two different lists attached during the caretaker period. McCann said the minister’s office told Sport Australia the second email was sent because there was an error with the first email.

McCann told Wednesday’s hearing “we were advised at 12.43pm that there were some errors in that brief and that this was the correct brief.

“That was how it was characterised by the minister’s office.”

As reported by Guardian Australia, McCann indicated this had happened before, during the first round of grants under the program. The minister’s office had sent a brief with a list of approved grants and then subsequently amended the list. He said in that instance the minister’s office had again indicated there had been an error.

McCann said the changes between the first and the second email on 11th April added about $2.7 million to the cost of the program.

The ANAO on Monday night told an estimates hearing that Senator McKenzie’s office maintained the spreadsheet of successful sports grants applications at all stages, but there were representations from Prime Minister Morrison’s office.

Brian Boyd, the ANAO’s Performance Audit Services Group Executive Director, said not all the high level representations led to a change, but “sometimes they did”.

Boyd advised “for example, when I referred to one project coming out and one project coming in, in terms of the 8.46am version, that was at the request of the prime minister’s office.

“But of the changes made later that day, for the 12.43pm version, none were evident as being at the request of the prime minister’s office rather than the minister’s office making the changes.”

Images: Liberal candidate for Mayo Georgina Downer hands over a novelty cheque funding from the Community Sport Infrastructure Grant Program to the Yankalilla Bowling Club during the last Federal election campaign.

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

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

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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

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

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

20th May 2019 - Federal Government Community Sporting Infrastructure Grants invests over $100 million

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

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