The Auditor-General found most of the grants were awarded in seats targeted by the Coalition during last year’s federal election campaign.
Former sports minister, now agriculture minister, Bridget McKenzie, today refused to apologise or resign, after the report found her office used its own criteria to approve grants and questioned whether it had the legal authority to do so.
Nine out of 10 electorates approved to receive the most money were either marginal seats, or ones being eyed by the Coalition.
All would have been given less money under Sport Australia assessment criteria, with 60 per cent of applications approved despite failing to reach the necessary assessment score.
Nine of the 10 electorates given the least funding were either Labor or safe Coalition seats.
“The award of funding reflected the approach documented by the minister’s office of focusing on ‘marginal’ electorates held by the Coalition,” the report said.
“As well as those electorates held by other parties or independent members that were to be ‘targeted’ by the Coalition at the 2019 election.
“The award of grant funding was not informed by an appropriate assessment process and sound advice.”
The audit found there was “no legal authority evident … under which the minister was able to be the approver of CSIG program grants to be paid from the money of Sport Australia”.
McKenzie insisted today that “no rules were broken in this program”.
“The reality was there were many hundreds of meritorious projects that we just didn’t have the funding available for,” she told ABC radio.
Labor called for the inquiry in February last year, after Mayo candidate Downer posted a photograph of herself handing the Yankalilla Bowling Club a $127,000 novelty cheque with her name, image and Liberal Party logo.
Downer and the Liberal Party were campaigning to win back the seat of Mayo, held by independent MP Rebekah Sharkie, who said she had helped the club apply for the grant but wasn’t told it had been approved until after Downer’s presentation.
“In more than a decade of politics I’ve never seen a taxpayer-funded grant delivered by cheque with a candidate’s face and name on it. Rather desperate and misleading,” the crossbench MP then tweeted. Sharkie retained her seat at the May federal election.
Downer said she had personally lobbied the sports minister for the club’s upgrade, and the club had asked her to bring a novelty cheque to celebrate when funding was approved.
Shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus last February wrote to Auditor-General Grant Hehir, asking for the matter that he described as inappropriate and unacceptable to be investigated.
“I query how it is possible for Ms Downer, the unsuccessful candidate for the 2018 Mayo by-election and an unelected candidate for the upcoming federal election, to misuse a taxpayer-funded grant in this fashion,” he wrote.
Asked today if she would apologise for how the $100 million was handled, McKenzie said: “Not at all”.
Independent MP Zali Steggall says the affair showed Australia needed a national integrity commission with “real powers”.
– with AAP
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