Fri. Nov 18th, 2022

Bridget McKenzie has taken full responsibility for the $100m sports grants program despite blaming unnamed staff for late changes made during the caretaker period before the 2019 election.
In a brief and heated appearance before the Senate sports grants inquiry on Friday, McKenzie claimed the prime ministers office played no role in approving grants but said its feedback was one input she considered.
The former sports minister told the inquiry she was confident that talking points drawn up by her senior adviser for her to advocate to Scott Morrison to expand the program were not discussed with the prime minister despite McKenzie claiming not to know the documents content.
The sports rorts controversy was ignited in January 2020 when the auditor general released a scathing report that found McKenzies office had conducted a parallel process to judge applicants to the $100m community sport infrastructure grant program, skewing grants towards Coalition target and marginal seats.
Although McKenzie resigned over an undisclosed sports club membership from one of the recipient clubs, she maintains there was no wrongdoing in her administration of the scheme.
On Friday McKenzie was asked about nine late changes made to the list of projects approved in the third and final round of grant funding changes made after the government had entered caretaker mode on 11 April 2019.
McKenzie noted that she had already refuted false claims that she had backdated a brief signed 4 April, explaining she had signed it on that date but changes were later made to the attached list by unnamed staff.
My expectation is any changes to the attachment would have generated a new brief, she said.
The brief was processed in my office, and sent to Sport Australia in my office. The [prime ministers office] was not responsible for altering the attachment to the round three brief. It was submitted to Sport Australia, not in a timely manner, from my office.
Asked about the fact that one of the nine late changes was requested by the prime ministers office, McKenzie conceded that her office received representations right throughout the program but she was responsible for the final list.
The prime minister did not have a role in authorising projects throughout the three rounds and the final decision maker was me. I take responsibility for all the decisions taken in this program.
McKenzie argued that the auditor-generals finding that she skewed the program to marginal and target seats was based on a singular email memo a former adviser sent to themselves.
That document is a set of talking points prepared by her senior adviser for a November 2018 meeting between McKenzie and Morrison to argue for the expansion of the program by demonstrating how many more projects in marginal and targeted seats could be funded by expanding the program from $30m to $100m.
McKenzie said she had never seen it and was not at all aware of its content.
Asked if her senior adviser used the document to brief her, McKenzie replied: I cant recall that, but I absolutely categorically deny that that was a subject discussed at the meeting with the prime minister.
I know what happened at the meeting, but it wasnt discussed. We discussed how popular the program was, could I have some more money please, yes you can, thats a summary [of the meeting].
McKenzie said neither the document nor the marginal and target status of seats were considered in her decision making.
McKenzie said that 136 emails exchanged between her and the prime ministers office including 15 attaching spreadsheets of projects listed by electorate was not unusual.
Suggestions from the prime ministers office were just one of the inputs into her decision-making, including representations from other ministers and MPs but not Coalition campaign headquarters, she said.
McKenzie described the $100m program as wildly popular and highly successful, and completely rejected that the exercise of her ministerial discretion resulted in negative politicisation of the program.
McKenzie claimed that the colour-coded spreadsheets were used to ensure a broad geographical spread of projects and that her intervention actually increased the number of projects approved in Labor seats.
In addition to the Senate inquiry, the $100m program is the subject of a federal court challenge from Beechworth Lawn Tennis Club, which argues McKenzie lacked the legal authority to make sports grants.