Labor has dragged the public service commissioner into the sports rorts saga after it was revealed Glenys Beauchamp had destroyed notes related to the $100 million government grants program.
The outgoing Department of Health secretary was a board member of the Australian Sports Commission (Sport Australia) — the corporate government agency whose recommendations were overturned in the grants scheme scandal that has been making headlines since January.
The inquiry into the administration of the sports grants began in February. Beauchamp and the former head of Sport Australia, Kate Palmer, were called to give evidence on Friday — the day Beauchamp would officially retire.
Palmer told the inquiry she had held a meeting with the secretary and Sport Australia chair John Wylie in April 2019, after she saw a spreadsheet colour-coded by electorate and party, which was used by former Sport Minister Bridget McKenzie to administer the grants.
“I saw a coloured spreadsheet put under my face just as I was entering Senate estimates – that’s the only spreadsheet I saw,” Palmer said, noting the spreadsheet had “surprised” her.
She had referred the document to the national Auditor-General Grant Hehir, who had already initiated an investigation into the grants scheme. It was his audit report on the scheme that sparked debate over the potentially political nature of how grants were allocated.
Beauchamp described the teleconference with Palmer as an “ad hoc meeting”. When questioned on notes she may have taken during the call, she said:
“It’s interesting you should say that because it’s my last day in the public service and I have destroyed all of my notebooks and notes.”
The secretary said she would make “scratchings” in notebooks of “things I might have to follow up on”. She revealed she had destroyed the notes at the end of January in preparation for her retirement, arguing that she “should not have notebooks and things” once she had left the public service.
Beauchamp had not sought legal or other advice before destroying the notes, the inquiry heard.
Labor Senator Katy Gallagher has asked public service commissioner Peter Woolcott to investigate whether Beauchamp’s actions had breached the Archives Act.
“On the face of it, the outgoing secretary’s testimony indicates that she may have destroyed official Commonwealth records,” Gallagher wrote.
“I would appreciate if you could review the evidence and investigate this matter further, including whether there are widespread or ongoing issues in relation to the destruction of documents.”
I’ve written to the Australian Public Service Commissioner to ask him to look into the fact that documents from the Department of Health (the portfolio agency for sport) which are Commonwealth records were destroyed. #auspol #SportsRort #Canberra pic.twitter.com/YUvQDCJfhD
— Katy Gallagher (@SenKatyG) February 28, 2020
Under the act, a person must not engage in conduct that results in “the destruction or other disposal of a Commonwealth record”, including written and electronic notes.
Gallagher said there has been “a very significant reluctance to provide any information to the committee” regarding the investigation into the grants program.
“So we have sought documents from Sport Australia, we’ve asked for documents from health today, they have taken it on notice, Sport Australia has taken it on notice – the government has refused to provide documents to the Senate – so there is something that exists in these documents that the government doesn’t want us to have access to, that is clear,” she said.
“The issue that we will take up more broadly, about the protection of documents, is to make sure that even at the lowest levels, to the highest levels, that there is an understanding about the importance of preserving records that are created in the performance of your duties as a commonwealth public servant, and that those need to be adhered to at all times.”
Beauchamp’s retirement was announced in January. The secretary had planned to go on leave from January 24 — and officially retire on February 28 — but the leave was short lived. Beauchamp quickly returned to her role due to her successor, chief medical officer Brendan Murphy, having been caught up handling Australia’s response to the coronavirus.
At the time her retirement was announced, a Health spokesperson told The Mandarin Beauchamp’s departure was “solely related to her 65th birthday”.