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Constitutional breach question over sports grants scandal


An eminent legal expert has suggested the Morrison government’s controversial sports grants program may be unconstitutional.

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A report by the auditor-general found while Bridget McKenzie was sports minister she awarded most of the $100 million grants to marginal seats being targeted by the government last year.

Professor Anne Twomey said there appeared to be no basis for the scheme, and questioned whether the deputy Nationals leader breached the constitution.

“What is astonishing about the latest sports-rorts affair is its brazenness, culminating in the assertion that ‘no rules were broken’,” Twomey said in the Australian Financial Review. 

The professor of constitutional law at the University of Sydney said from a legal perspective there “seem to be at least three areas” in which rules were broken.

Twomey believes the legal obligation on ministers to behave in a procedurally fair manner, McKenzie’s legal ability to make the decisions, and whether or not she broke the constitution are all in question.

McKenzie has refused to apologise and Labor are calling for her resignation, but Prime Minister Scott Morrison is sticking by his embattled colleague.

Nationals frontbencher David Littleproud said he was confident the program was rolled out according to the guidelines, and McKenzie had his full support.

“Of course she does – she’s doing a damn good job,” Littleproud told reporters on Tuesday.

“Now as agriculture minister, moving on from sport into agriculture, she’s doing a damn good job in making sure not only do we continue to grow agriculture but help our agriculture adjust through these tougher times.”

South Australian independent Rebekha Sharkie was excluded from several sports funding announcements as the coalition targeted her seat of Mayo in last year’s election.

“I was a little disappointed that it was prior to the election and I wasn’t included in any announcement,” she told reporters while standing alongside Littleproud.

“I’d like to think that the local federal member can always be included when it’s outside of an election period. I understand when there’s an election on, things are different.

“Right across Mayo we need to upgrade a number of sporting facilities.”

Sharkie’s Centre Alliance party will support a Senate inquiry into the so-called “sports rorts” affair.

Senior Nationals MP Darren Chester welcomed the fact the scheme was now under review, saying it was important people were satisfied the grants programs was fair.

“The integrity of the way we deliver these types of programs needs to have the transparency that people can have confidence that a fair system is in place,” Chester told ABC News.

“Because people need to have confidence when they make a bid for a program.

“There have been great deliveries under this program. The question is whether the decisions were based upon merit.”

Former NSW auditor-general Tony Harris said if the program had come across his desk he would have referred it to the state’s anti-corruption commission.

“I would be obliged to advise the Independent Commission Against Corruption about the matter,” Harris told the ABC.

“I would expect them to have an inquiry into the matter.”

Labor’s former sports minister Ros Kelly stepped down from the ministry and then parliament in 1995 following a similar scandal.


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