Former cabinet minister Bridget McKenzie said it was not unusual for the prime minister’s office to have input into a controversial community sports grants program.
But she firmly denied any role by Scott Morrison’s office in authorising any of the 684 projects.
A Senate committee took evidence on Friday into the administration of sports grants, in the wake of a damning auditor-general report and the resignation of McKenzie from the ministry.
In January last year, the auditor-general found the scheme favoured coalition and marginal seats, noting the use of colour-coded spreadsheets and a memo which spoke of federal election target seats.
McKenzie resigned from cabinet after it emerged she had membership of two gun clubs that received grants through the program.
The inquiry has previously heard there were 136 emails sent between McKenzie’s office and the prime minister’s office about the program, including lists of intended recipients and suggested late changes.
“This is not unusual,” she said, adding that there needed to be coordination of media engagement and other matters.
“The prime minister did not have a role in authorising projects during the three rounds of the program … and the final decision maker was me.
“I take responsibility for all the decisions made in this program.”
She admitted an attachment to a ministerial brief had been altered without her approval, but did not know who made the alterations.
Asked whether the changes could have been made by a prime ministerial staffer, she said: “I can’t identify a specific person, but I categorically know that change was made in my office because that is where the brief was processed.”
She described the auditor-general report as “middle of the road”, but said the key recommendations – including tighter rules around ministerial approvals – had been accepted by the government.
Sarah Black, general manager of the Olympia Football Club in the Tasmanian Labor-held seat of Franklin, submitted an application to upgrade change facilities which was given an eligibility score of 79.5 out of 100 by Sport Australia but still missed out on a grant.
“We just want this to be a fair and transparent process and we feel it hasn’t been that way,” she told the hearing.
“When I know that some of the sporting clubs received less than half of our score it does make you very upset and very angry.”
She said the grant criteria were clear and she was not aware there would be involvement by the prime minister’s office.
“There was no ‘prime minister gets five per cent’ (of the say),” she said of the guidelines.
Belconnen Tennis Club president Martin Klein’s application for a lighting upgrade was rated 82 out of 100 but did not get funding.
“To me it would be perhaps inappropriate particularly if it is based on electorates,” he said, noting his club was in the Labor seat of Canberra.
The inquiry heard the proportion of Labor seats receiving grants had initially been 26 per cent, but had lifted to 35 per cent after the minister intervened.
The committee also heard the proportion of coalition seats receiving funding was reduced from 66 per cent of grants to 60 per cent after ministerial intervention.
“I completely reject that the exercise of my ministerial discretion resulted in the negative politicisation of the program,” McKenzie said.
Tasmanian senator Eric Abetz said he had inspected the Olympia Football Club and admitted “it did need upgrading”, but noted not all clubs could get what they wanted.
There were an initial 2056 applications, of which 1943 were found to be eligible and 684 received money over three rounds.Jump to next article