Sport Australia told to seek legal advice following grants administration inquiry

By Shannon Jenkins

December 9, 2020

The audit office’s scrutiny of sports grants led to Bridget McKenzie’s resignation from cabinet. Image: AAP/Mick Tsikas

A parliamentary committee has called for the commonwealth’s grants policy to be amended to strengthen record-keeping and reporting requirements, following an investigation into the administration of federal government grants.

The public accounts and audit committee’s latest report, released on Tuesday, examined three Australian National Audit Office reports — the National Competitive Grants Program; the Regional Jobs and Investment Packages; and the Community Sport Infrastructure Program — the last of which sparked the ongoing sports rorts inquiry.

In January the ANAO found the sports grants under the controversial program had been used to target key electorates in the months leading up to the 2019 election. In its new report, the public accounts committee has concluded all funding decisions “should be merit-based and undertaken transparently”, in accordance with the relevant laws.

A key point of contention during the sports rorts inquiry has been whether former sport minister Bridget McKenzie had the legal authority to approve grant funding. The original audit found it was “not evident to the ANAO what the legal authority was” for the minister to approve funding.

Read more: Sports rorts: document created by McKenzie’s advisor shows grant approvals were biased, inquiry hears

The public accounts committee has noted that while it did not consider the legal basis for decision making in detail, there has been “significant uncertainty regarding the legal basis for the minister’s role in approving grants”. As a result, the committee has recommended Sport Australia seek legal advice on the authority, duty and role of the minister, as well as the authority of the Australian Sports Commission.

It has also called on the entity to amend its guidelines for all current and future grant programs as necessary, and to report back to the committee in six months.

The committee made a total of six recommendations to government, including that the Commonwealth Grants Rules and Guidelines be amended to:

  • Emphasise the importance of ensuring that all relevant entities involved in grants administration receive and complete sufficient training, with documented processes to ensure the ongoing quality assurance of assessments,
  • Ensure the timely announcement and communication to stakeholders of grant opportunities and outcomes of grant programs.
  • Include an eighth key principle for grants administration of “adherence to published guidelines”, to uphold the expectations of the Parliament and other stakeholders and provide transparency to applicants when published criteria is amended.

The advice has come a week after the Senate committee investigating the sports rorts rejected current sport minister Richard Colbeck’s public interest immunity claim, which had stopped Sport Australia from providing the inquiry with the legal advice it had obtained on whether McKenzie had the authority to approve grant funding.

Read more: Sports rorts: minister’s public interest immunity claim rejected, government accused of impeding on inquiry


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