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Sport rorts inquiry implicates Prime Minister Scott Morrison
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has been drawn into the sports grants controversy after it was revealed his office exchanged 136 emails with former Federal Sports Minister Bridget McKenzie’s office about the program.
Submissions to the Senate inquiry into the Federal Government’s controversial Community Sport Infrastructure Grant Program contradicted Prime Minister Morrison’s previous denials of any detailed knowledge of the allocation of funds from the program,
Prime Minister Morrison has maintained that his involvement in the $100 million infrastructure program was limited to his office passing on representations from MPs to Senator McKenzie’s office.
However, in an answer to the Senate inquiry, the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) revealed that between 17th October 2018 and 11th April 2019 Senator McKenzie and Prime Minister Morrison’s office exchanged 136 emails about the program.
The documents also reveal Senator McKenzie wrote back to the prime minister on 10th April 2019 - the day before the election was called - with the list of projects she proposed to fund, summarised by state, political party and electorate. On 11th April, the day the election was called, the Minister sent the final list to Sport Australia.
With sporting clubs that missed out came on funds from the program complaining to a Senate inquiry, a Senate order for production of documents revealed Prime Minister Morrison attended an event at the Sans Souci Football Club, which was given $50,000 despite its project nearly having been completed.
Documents produced to the Senate yesterday revealed that the Prime Minister’s office was informed before he attended an event at the Sans Souci Football Club on 11th July last year that “it is worth noting that the club initially missed out on the first two rounds of funding under the Community Sport Infrastructure grant program”.
The document stated “the club was subsequently funded in round three. During the intervening period, the club has fundraised and the project is almost completed.”
A spokesman for the Prime Minister said the project was “approved for funding by the then Minister for Sport based on its assessed eligibility by Sport Australia.
“It was the responsibility of the applicants and Sport Australia to have ensured all projects met the eligibility criteria.”
Earlier in February, the ANAO told the Senate inquiry that 43% of projects funded were not eligible, mostly because they had started or completed work by the time a funding agreement was signed.
In a scathing report released last month the ANAO found the program was skewed towards marginal or Coalition target seats.
In submissions to the Senate inquiry, the Gippsland Ranges Roller Derby, which met all criteria for fuding, has said it is “incredibly disappointed” with the politicisation of the program, while the North Shore Country Club has threatened to join possible legal action.
Plaintiff law firms Slater and Gordon and Maurice Blackburn have both proposed class actions or tests cases, citing concerns the grants may be unconstitutional and the ANAO finding that it was “not evident” what Senator McKenzie’s authority was to give grants.
Prime Minister Morrison has suggested clubs that missed out could be funded in a further round of the program but has not made a concrete commitment.
The North Shore Country Club, which provides tennis facilities in Kallaroo, Western Australia, submitted that it was unable to fund its project to improve accessibility and female facilities, while other clubs received funding despite not being eligible when agreements were signed for projects that would have been built anyway.
As reported by Guardian Australia, constitutional expert Anne Twomey submitted that program guidelines were invalid because they nominated Senator McKenzie as “the final approver of grants” and reiterated her view that “most of the funding given to projects under the scheme was unlawful because there was no constitutional head of power to support it”.
The Centre for Comparative Constitutional Studies at Melbourne University agreed that there was “no plausible head of legislative power to support most and, perhaps, all (of the grants)”.
Sport Australia submitted that it had accepted the three recommendations of the ANAO to manage the expected level of demand for programs, improve conflict of interest procedures and assessment records. It did not comment on what the legal authority was for Senator McKenzie to make grants.
Images: Scott Morrison at Sans Souci Football Club (top, courtesy of Sans Souci Football Club/Facebook) and Senator Bridget McKenzie while Federal Sports Minister (below).
21st February 2020 - Kate Palmer agrees to give evidence to sports grants inquiry
24th February 2020 - Federal Sports Minister considers big changes in Government funding arrangements
14th February 2020 - Sport Australia slammed for extravagant spending on offices and consultants
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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