Bureaucrats from the Australian National Audit Office have revealed more details about their investigation into the controversial sport grants program and then-sports minister Bridget McKenzie’s involvement in the grant-approval process.
ANAO performance audit services group executive director Brian Boyd on Wednesday told a senate inquiry that McKenzie’s senior adviser had created a document of “talking points” detailing how expanding the grants program would have funded 109 more projects in marginal and target seats.
The document was created in preparation for a meeting between McKenzie and Prime Minister Scott Morrison on November 28, 2018, and informed the ANAO’s opinion that the awarding of grant funding was biased.
The ANAO audit report released in January noted that on November 20, 2018 — eight days before the meeting — McKenzie’s office had recorded that it had identified 705 projects in marginal and targeted seats, and had “taken into account representations received from a number of senators and members in addition to having ‘spoken directly to other members and duty-senators and some cross-bench on key priorities — with a priority on marginal and target seats’.”
The office had also developed two lists of projects, the report noted. One was for the existing program funding of $29.7 million, and another for a program involving total grant funding of $100 million.
“The proposal was that a further 109 projects located in ‘marginal’ and ‘targeted’ electorates could be successful (meaning 32% of all projects in those categories could have been successful) along with another 298 projects located in other categories of electorates (meaning 28% of all projects in those electorates could have been successful),” the report said.
Boyd told the inquiry that ANAO did not know whether those talking points — which were prepared by the senior advisor in a the document titled “TPs for meeting with PM” — were used at the November 28 meeting or even given to McKenzie at all, but the funding was granted.
In the two weeks leading up to the meeting, McKenzie’s office had sent Morrison’s office a spreadsheet of projects which could be funded under a $100m program, and another spreadsheet detailing what the program would look like if it remained at $30m.
McKenzie had also met with her chief of staff and senior adviser, after which the senior adviser drew up a “four-page document setting out what could be achieved if the program was expanded from $30m to $100m”, Boyd said.
He noted that the ANAO has “subsequent correspondence” confirming that at the meeting between Morrison and the minister, “it was agreed the program would increase from $30 to $100 million”.
McKenzie first wrote to Morrison to propose increased funding on October 17, 2018. It has previously been revealed that 136 emails were sent between the two offices regarding the grants scheme between October 2018 and April 2019.
Auditor-general Grant Hehir told the inquiry that ANAO believed Morrison was not involved in the grant approval process, and McKenzie had made the final decisions.
The inquiry heard that on February 3 2019, the PM’s office emailed McKenzie’s office stating he hadn’t yet looked at the list of proposed second-round grant recipients. McKenzie decided the grant recipients for round two of the program the following day.
Then on March 4, the PM’s office asked McKenzie for a list of unfunded projects and a list of what a third round of the program would look like if it was approved. That month the PM’s office also told McKenzie’s office that she was expected to write to Morrison to seek “authority” on the approved sports projects, and to inform him of the “roll out plan”.
McKenzie sent the PM spreadsheets of approved projects categorised by state, political party and electorate on April 10. Morrison’s office requested changes to the final list on April 10 and 11 — the day the 2019 election was called.
McKenzie has previously denied that she had anything to do with the changed list of successful projects sent the day the election was announced, stating she “did not make any changes or annotations to this brief or its attachments after 4 April 2019”.
She has argued that the grants scheme was “designed to give the minister final approval”, and Sport Australia and the Department of Health had failed to raise any issues regarding the scheme.
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