The secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet has pulled out of his scheduled appearance before the Senate inquiry into the controversial sports rorts.
Late on Friday, Phil Gaetjens reportedly requested his planned Monday appearance be postponed due to being tied up with Australia’s response to the novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic.
The senior mandarin was set to answer questions about his investigation into whether the former sports minister Bridget McKenzie had breached ministerial standards in her handling of the Commonwealth’s sports grants program.
He was tasked with leading the probe in January, following a report from the national auditor-general which suggested McKenzie had used the grants scheme to target key electorates in the months leading up to the 2019 election.
According to Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Gaetjens “did not find evidence” that grant allocations had been influenced by marginal or targeted electorates, and found “no basis for the suggestion that political considerations were the primary determining factor”.
However, the probe did conclude that McKenzie had breached ministerial standards, prompting her resignation from her most recent role as agriculture minister.
Gaetjens’ advice to Morrison — which has not been released to the public — was widely criticised for letting the government “off a political hook”. He has since defended his approach to the investigation.
During a recent hearing, PM&C staff asserted that Gaetjens “had a very specific role assigned”, which was to look at McKenzie’s handling of the scheme. Labor Senate leader Penny Wong argued the scope of the probe “was kept deliberately narrow so as to protect the Prime Minister and his office”.
Gaetjens was formerly chief of staff to Scott Morrison during his time as Treasurer.