Prime Minister Scott Morrison has denied he misled parliament regarding his role in the federal government’s controversial sports grants program after the national auditor-general released new details of emails sent from Morrison’s office.
The Australian National Audit Office has revealed that in March 2019, Morrison’s office had told then-sports minister Bridget McKenzie’s office that she was expected to write to the PM to seek “authority” on the approved sports projects, and to inform him of the “roll out plan”.
The PM’s office had also requested changes to the final list of approved projects on April 10 and 11 — the day the 2019 election was called. According to ANAO, Morrison’s office wrote:
“We need to be able to cross check against our list and also be able to pull individual projects out to coordinate announcements and material from CCHQ [Coalition campaign headquarters].”
The new evidence was recently revealed to the Senate inquiry charged with investigating the handling of the sports grants program in answers to questions on notice.
Earlier this year, Morrison told the House of Representatives that “there was no authorisation provided by me as prime minister on the projects”, after it was revealed that 136 emails were sent between the two offices regarding the grants scheme between October 2018 and April 2019.
He claimed his office had merely “passed on information about other funding options or programs relevant to project proposals”. He has repeatedly stated that McKenzie made all the decisions regarding the successful projects, not him.
Morrison on Monday told reporters he had not misled parliament and dismissed their questions about the new evidence.
“Good to see the Canberra press gallery is back to politics as usual with Parliament coming back,” he said.
Parliament resumes on Tuesday, with Labor likely to scrutinise the government over the new information.
The Senate select committee investigating the handling of the grants program will also call on McKenzie in the future.
McKenzie has previously denied that she had anything to do with the changed list of successful projects sent the day the federal election was announced, stating she “did not make any changes or annotations to this brief or its attachments after 4 April 2019”.
Questions over the scheme were first raised in January, when an ANAO audit report found the federal government had used the sports grants program to target key electorates in the lead up to the 2019 election.
Auditor-general Grant Hehir found 684 grants totalling $100 million were awarded by McKenzie, with “evidence of distribution bias in the award of grant funding”.
McKenzie has since stepped down from her most recent role of agriculture minister, after Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet secretary Phil Gaetjens concluded McKenzie had breached ministerial standards by failing to disclose that she was a member of a gun club that had received funding under the grants scheme.
Gaetjens rejected Hehir’s finding 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”, Morrison said at the time.