Sports rorts affair (2020)

The "sports rorts" affair, also called the McKenzie Scandal,[1] is a scandal named for the many similarities it has to the sports rorts affair that occurred under the Keating Government in 1993-1994.[2][3] In January 2020, the Australian National Audit Office published a report into Sport Australia's Community Sport Infrastructure Program titled 'Award of Funding under the Community Sport Infrastructure Program'. The report had two main conclusions: the award of grant funding was not informed by an appropriate assessment process and sound advice and the successful applications were not those that had been assessed as the most meritorious in terms of the published program guidelines.[4] The outcomes of the report resulted in extensive media coverage due to Senator Bridget McKenzie, the then Minister for Sport in the Morrison Government, using her ministerial discretion to favour marginal or targeted electorates in the allocation of grants in the lead up to 2019 Australian federal election.[5][6][7][8]

BackgroundEdit

The Community Sport Infrastructure Grant Program was established by the Turnbull Government as part of its 2018 Australian federal budget with it allocating A$27.9 million for the program.[4]The December 2018 Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook (MYEFO) and 2019 Australian federal budget allocated a further A$30.3 million and A$42.5 million to the program with the total allocation being A$102.5 million. The aim of the program was for more Australians to have access to quality sporting facilities, encouraging greater community participation in sport and physical activity.[4] Sport Australia was given the responsibility for administering the program and its guidelines identified three aspects with appropriate weightings: community participation (50 per cent); community need (25 per cent); and project design and delivery (25 per cent).[4] However Sports Australia did not establish a framework for assessing the three aspects inline with the program objectives. The decision making process involved Sport Australia assessment panel assessing applications, all eligible applications subjectively assessed as meeting the criteria were to the Sport Australia board for their endorsement and the Minister for Sport identified as the final funding decision-maker as to the extent the proposal met the program objectives. Applications opened on 2 August 2018 and closed on 14 September 2018. Sport Australia received 2056 project proposals seeking more than A$396.6 million in Australian Government funding. Funding totalling A$102.5 million was awarded to 684 projects which due to the large number and great variety, were assessed in three rounds completed in December 2018, February 2019 and April 2019.[4]

ControversyEdit

The program came under media and the Australian Labor Party Opposition attention when Georgina Downer, Liberal Party of Australia candidate for Mayo was photographed in presenting a mock cheque for A$127,373 to the Yankalilla Bowling Club in February 2019.[9] This presentation was not approved either by the Government or Sports Australia , but was the initiative of the candidate as part of her electioneering. The Shadow Attorney-General, Mark Dreyfus requested that the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) investigate the management of the program.[4]

The ANAO report titled "Award of Funding under the Community Sport Infrastructure Program" released on 15 January 2020 resulted in extensive media coverage and its outcomes were compared to the 1993-1994 sports rorts affair that resulted in the resignation of Ros Kelly, Minister for Sport in the Keating Government. The ANAO found there were two processes in awarding the grants: Sport Australia providing ranking lists based on three factors which were subjectively assessed, and the minister's office later produced a list based on its subjective assessment that the proposal was more in line with the programs objective, with a colour coded spreadsheet highlighting types of electorates to show there was no political bias as there had been under the Labor Government's Sports Rort.[10][11] The report found that in the first round, 91 of the projects (41%) approved by the Minister were not on the preliminary list endorsed by the Sport Australia board. In the second round, 162 (70%) of the projects initially recommended were not included, and in the final round 167 (73%) of the approved projects had not been initially recommended by Sport Australia.[12][13] ANAO the program guidelines.[4] ANAO also found that while the guidelines identified the Minister in an approval role, there are no records that evidence that the Department of Health or Sport Australia advised the Minister on the legal basis on which the Minister could undertake an approval role.[4] The report recommended that Sport Australia improve its grants management for high demand programs and improve conflict of interest guidelines.[4]

McKenzie's response to the report was that it was "a very popular program that funded 684 projects right across the country to help get people up and moving" and "all projects selected for funding were eligible to receive it." McKenzie also highlighted that the final list of approvals was not a Sports Rort, as the outcome was "reverse pork-barrelling" because Labor seats benefited from her ministerial intervention.[14] Australian Labor Party spokesman for sport Don Farrell called for Senator McKenzie to resign and made the following subjective comments about grants awarded in April 2019, just weeks out from the May 18 election "more than 400 grassroots sports club had their applications, which were highly regarded by Sport Australia, thrown out by this government so they could funnel money into marginal seats instead." [15]

McKenzie resigned as deputy leader of the Nationals and from her ministerial portfolio on 2 February 2020, after a report by the Secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet found that she had breached ministerial standards by not declaring her membership of one of the clubs which had received funding under the program.[16] The planned deputy leadership contest culminated into a larger leadership spill, resulting in the resignation of Nationals MP Matt Canavan from the cabinet and the resignation of Llew O'Brien from the Nationals party room.

ReportEdit

The Prime Minister rejected the Auditor-general's report. The Prime Minister commissioned a separate report from the head of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. This report found that political considerations were not the primary consideration and did not unduly influence the decision-making process; though what influence this report (known as the Gaetjens report) found political considerations actually had is unknown. The Gaetjens report was presented to cabinet and as a consequence, the report would remain confidential.[17] Labor, Greens and the crossbenches demand the release of the report. On 12 February 2020, the Senate voted down a motion which would have stripped of Senate government leader Mathias Cormann's ability to represent the Prime Minister in the chamber until 6 March, unless the government tabled the report.[18][19]

See alsoEdit

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ Tsikas, Mick (February 2, 2020). "Remembrance of rorts past: why the McKenzie scandal might not count for a hill of beans". The Conversation. Retrieved February 28, 2020.
  2. ^ Waterford, Jack (17 January 2020). "How rorting sports grants became a bipartisan game". Canberra Times. Retrieved 18 January 2020.
  3. ^ Knaus, Christopher (17 January 2020). "Explainer: Bridget McKenzie is digging in over calls to resign but does her defence stack up?". The Guardian. Retrieved 18 January 2020.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Award of Funding under the Community Sport Infrastructure Program". Australian National Audit Office. 15 January 2020. Retrieved 18 January 2020.
  5. ^ Speers, David (18 January 2020). "Bridget McKenzie's sport grant cash splash is a particularly brazen example of pork-barrelling". ABC News. Retrieved 18 January 2020.
  6. ^ Martin, Sarah (15 January 2020). "Coalition gave out $100m in pre-election grants favouring targeted seats, audit office says". The Guardian. Retrieved 18 January 2020.
  7. ^ Masters, Roy (17 January 2020). "'It's not me': Executive in government cash splash report stays anonymous". Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 18 January 2020.
  8. ^ Packham, Ben (16 January 2020). "Bridget McKenzie attacks 'ridiculous' Labor claims on $100m grants". The Australian. Retrieved 18 January 2020.
  9. ^ Smee, Ben (24 February 2019). "Call for investigation after Georgina Downer presents cheque to bowling club". The Guardian. Retrieved 18 January 2020.
  10. ^ Lawson, Kirstenn (16 January 2020). "Bridget McKenzie has nowhere to hide in sports grants scandal". Canberra Times. Retrieved 18 January 2020.
  11. ^ Probyn, Andrew (2020-01-28). "Sport Australia complained to Minister about political interference in grants scheme". ABC News. Retrieved 2020-02-04.
  12. ^ Snape, Jack (2020-01-15). "Bridget McKenzie defends actions after audit finds 'biased' use of sports grants". ABC News. Retrieved 2020-02-04.
  13. ^ Snape, Jack (2020-02-01). "Six secrets of the Government's 'dodgy' sport grants hidden in the leaked spreadsheet". ABC News. Retrieved 2020-02-04.
  14. ^ Karp, Paul (16 January 2020). "Labor calls on Bridget McKenzie to resign over sport grants for marginal seats". The Guardian. Retrieved 18 January 2020.
  15. ^ Molloy, Shannon (16 January 2020). "Government under fire for election-eve $100 million splashed in marginal seats it needed to win". News.com.au. Retrieved 18 January 2020.
  16. ^ Bridget McKenzie quits frontbench over report she breached ministerial standards ABC News, 2 February 2020. Retrieved 8 February 2020.
  17. ^ Speers, David (9 February 2020). "A government report has been locked away — but it wasn't the only thing kept from voters this week". ABC News. Retrieved 13 February 2020.
  18. ^ "Cormann survives Senate crossbench's gag motion". Sky News. 12 February 2020. Retrieved 13 February 2020.
  19. ^ Coch, Lukas (12 February 2020). "Pauline Hanson stymies bid to hobble Mathias Cormann". The Conversation. Retrieved 13 February 2020.

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