The head of Sport Australia has admitted he had given incorrect evidence to a Senate inquiry into the sports rorts scandal.
Last week, Sport Australia told the select committee on administration of sports grants that they had received one email from then-Sports Minister Bridget McKenzie’s office at 8.46am, on April 11 2019 — roughly 20 minutes after the federal election was announced.
The email detailed the successful projects for the final round of the Commonwealth’s controversial $100 million sports grants program.
Then, on Monday, the Australian National Audit Office told the inquiry there had been a second email from McKenzie’s office at 12.43pm. That email had removed one project, and added nine.
Labor Senator Katy Gallagher grilled Sport Australia chief operating officer Luke McCann on Wednesday over the conflicting information.
“Your evidence on that day was clearly not correct, was it?” she asked.
“No senator,” he replied.
“On the day we took an undertaking within the committee to answer the question, I received a message from my office that indicated it was 8.46 [am].
“In hindsight, we should have taken that on notice and done a more thorough search.”
Get the Juice - the Mandarin's free daily newsletter delivered to your inbox.You’ll also receive special offers from our partners. You can opt-out at any time.
McCann said his team had realised the mistake by Monday, but he had not read their email until Tuesday. He did not bring copies of the April 11 emails to the hearing on Wednesday, which Gallagher noted was “very convenient”.
She asked whether McCann was withholding information from the committee, which he denied.
McCann said the second email from McKenzie’s office indicated that there were “errors” in the 8.46am brief, and sought to correct them.
“That was how it was characterised by the minister’s office,” he said.
While one project was removed in the second list, nine were added. Five of those nine projects had been submitted after the application deadline closed. Four were amended projects.
Sport Australia could not reveal which project had been removed from the initial funding brief, McCann said.
Both of the emails were sent after Parliament had gone into caretaker mode, during which governments should not make major policy decisions or enter into major contracts or undertakings, under the caretaker conventions.
Former Sport Australia boss Kate Palmer had discussed the matter with the Department of Health, according to McCann.
“We got advice back from [the Department of] Health … to consider our actions in the context of the caretaker conventions insofar as they relate to major government decisions and not binding a future government,” he said.
“We took that consideration and acted accordingly.”
Palmer was replaced by former Ernst & Young partner Rob Dalton in January. On Friday she told the Senate inquiry she had been “surprised” when she saw a colour-coded spreadsheet used by McKenzie to administer the grants.