Sports rorts – the affair that just keeps on giving
October 2018 ongoing
In January 2020, the Commonwealth Auditor-General found that Bridget McKenzie’s office made up its own rules for doling out $100 million of sports grants leading up to the 2019 federal election in a process that was possibly illegal.
Auditor-General Grant Hehir found that McKenzie’s office ran its own assessment process for determining where the 684 sports grants would go – a process that was “inconsistent with the published guidelines” from Sport Australia and possibly illegal. Some 43% of the projects funded were ineligible when agreements were signed.
The audit also uncovered evidence the minister’s office was awarding grants based on marginal electorates held by the Coalition or that it was targeting at the election.
It found that while McKenzie’s office did take into account how Sport Australia ranked projects for funding, it also took into account factors that were not in the criteria. As a result, nearly two in three grants went to organisations scored below Sport Australia’s cut-off for funding.
The auditor-general said there was “evidence of distribution bias in the award of grant funding”; by the third round 73 per cent of projects the minister approved for funding were not endorsed by the Sport Australia board.
While the Prime Minister has distanced himself from the saga, the Audit Office also revealed that in March 2019, Scott Morrison’s office told McKenzie’s office that she was expected to write to the Prime Minister to seek “authority” on the approved sports projects and to inform him of the “roll out plan”.
Between October 2018 and April 2019 136 emails were sent between the two offices regarding the grants scheme. Morrison says his office had merely “passed on information about other funding options or programs relevant to project proposals”.
The PM’s office also requested changes to the final list of approved projects on April 10 and 11 — the day the 2019 election was called. McKenzie told a Senate inquiry she “did not make any changes or annotations to this brief or its attachments after 4 April 2019”.
Sydney University Constitutional Law Professor Anne Twomey is one of three legal experts who assert that the grants were unconstitutional and unlawful because McKenzie had no legal power to override Sport Australia.