Gaetjens to speak on sports rorts ‘in due course’

By Shannon Jenkins

Friday February 7, 2020

(Image: Adobe/adimas)

The head of the Australian Public Service will make a public statement regarding his investigation into former Nationals deputy Bridget McKenzie’s handling of a sports grants scheme.

It comes as the top mandarin faces criticism from one of his predecessors.

Last month the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet secretary Phil Gaetjens was tasked with leading the probe into the government grants program, spurred by a scathing report from the national auditor-general. According to Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Gaetjen’s unreleased investigation found that while McKenzie had breached ministerial standards, there was “no basis for the suggestion that political considerations were the primary determining factor”.

This was in direct contrast to the original audit, which found “evidence of distribution bias”, where then-sports minister McKenzie and her office had awarded grants to marginal and targeted coalition electorates, rather than to applicants recommended by Sport Australia.

On Thursday finance minister Mathias Cormann said Gaetjens had told Scott Morrison he would “make a public statement in due course”.

He also reiterated that Gaetjens’ report would not be released.

“As is well recognised in the Westminster system, it is in the public interest to preserve the confidentiality of cabinet deliberations to ensure the best possible decisions are made following thorough consideration and discussion of relevant proposals within cabinet,” he wrote in a letter to Senate president Scott Ryan.

“Disclosure of the document subject to the motion is not in the public interest as it would reveal cabinet deliberations.”

Prior to taking the top job of secretary last year, Gaetjens worked as chief of staff to Morrison as treasurer. While his investigation led to the resignation of McKenzie, it has been criticised by Labor and a former PM&C secretary.

Earlier this week opposition leader Anthony Albanese argued Gaetjens had let the prime minister and his office “off the hook”.

“Bridget McKenzie, of course, has been thrown under the bus for what, relative to this $100m scandal, is just one small element of it,” he said. “And for the prime minister to just dismiss the independent report of the auditor-general because he has something from his former chief of staff, which conveniently lets everyone else off the hook, means that there needs to be a full and proper inquiry into this sorry saga.

“They have to go through various procedures of transparency that are there now that have been ignored.

“Phil Gaetjens, if he doesn’t know that, then I don’t know how he has got the job as the head of Prime Minister and Cabinet. It’s quite farcical, this whole exercise.”

On Thursday, former PM&C secretary Michael Keating echoed the criticism Gaetjens had let the government “off a political hook”.

“Personally … having been involved in a similar situation, I find the fact that Gaetjens’ report apparently ignored these fundamental considerations of good government and ministerial conduct inconceivable. In my view the Gaetjens’ report reflects poorly on its author,” he wrote.

“It would seem on the evidence that Gaetjens has produced a report whose only purpose was to get the government off a political hook. One suspects that finding Bridget McKenzie guilty on the grounds of political bias in her administration of these grants would have implicated other ministers and/or their offices, and therefore she was exonerated on this charge.

“However, as Head of the Public Service, Gaetjen’s first duty is to uphold it values and integrity. And as set out in its enabling legislation, the Australian Public Service (APS) is meant to be apolitical, serving not only the government, but also the Parliament and the Australian public. Gaetjens should be setting an example for the rest of the APS – indeed the head of any organisation has their greatest impact on its culture.”

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