Staff movements at agency tied to controversial sports grants scheme

By Shannon Jenkins

Thursday January 30, 2020

Adobe Stock

The Australian Sports Commission has appointed a new boss amid investigations into how Senator Bridget McKenzie handled the agency’s grants program.

Former Ernst & Young partner Rob Dalton will reportedly take the role. He replaces Kate Palmer.

Sport Australia is the agency tied to the sports rorts scandal surrounding former sports minister Bridget McKenzie, who awarded a large portion of grants dealt by the agency to marginal seats, rather than based on merit. National auditor-general Grant Hehir found McKenzie’s office went against formal guidelines and Sport Australia’s process, highlighting that it was “not evident” what the legal authority was for the minister to approve funding.

Rob Dalton

Dalton has been a member of the Finance Audit & Risk Committees at Sport Australia since 2010. The committees oversee financial management of grant allocation.

Palmer has been CEO since February 2017. Sport Australia announced she would be stepping down in October.

On Wednesday, Palmer told Sky News she had voiced concerns about the sports grant scheme before her contract was discontinued. However, she denied her departure was linked to her concerns.

The ABC this week revealed Sport Australia executive director Robin O’Neill had emailed McKenzie’s office last year voicing concerns that the agency’s independence was being compromised.

“Our actions have been driven by our responsibility to provide the best advice to the minister,” he wrote to McKenzie’s former chief of staff Richard Hyett. “Please note the concerns of Sport Australia detailed in my email of 5 March 2019.”

The leak led current sport minister Richard Colbeck to seek “assurance” from the Health Department and Sport Australia “that documents provided to the media relating to the assessment of Community Sport Infrastructure Grants did not come out of their agencies”.

O’Neill has been named as the employee referred to by Hehir for having an “undeclared and unmanaged conflict of interest”. He no longer works for Sport Australia.

Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet secretary Philip Gaetjens is currently leading a probe into McKenzie’s handling of the grants scheme.

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