Former sport minister Bridget McKenzie will briefly appear before the sports rorts inquiry for the first time next month, more than a year after the national auditor-general uncovered evidence of distribution bias in the awarding of funds under the commonwealth grant scheme.
Late last year, the Senate directed McKenzie to appear before the Select Committee on Administration of Sports Grants by February 12.
In a letter to committee chair Anthony Chisholm on January 15, Mckenzie said she would be available to appear on that date — but only for one hour.
The senator rejected the notion that she had previously declined to appear before the committee, arguing that she has “always been voluntarily willing to fulsomely cooperate with the committee”.
“Nonetheless the committee has sought to take the unprecedented action through the Senate order of 9 December, to direct a fellow senator to appear,” she wrote.
“As per this resolution and despite several requests, I am yet to receive a detailed statement of matters to be dealt with during my appearance that I haven’t already addressed in my submission nor ‘a transcript of relevant evidence already taken’ by the committee that would justify my need to attend for any other reason than a cheap political stunt.”
The submission McKenzie made to the committee in April 2020 had defended her handling of the sport grants, and had laid blame on public servants, stating that Sport Australia had never briefed her about the contentious issue of her legal authority to approve the grants.
In her recent letter, McKenzie argued that she has “already substantively dealt with matters of interest to the committee” in that submission, and has “nothing further to add with respect to the topics outlined in your correspondence”.
Despite this, the senator said she would “continue to work collaboratively with the committee to assist its inquiry”.
The sports rorts inquiry was sparked by an audit report released in January 2020, which had found sport infrastructure grants had been used to target key electorates in the lead up to the 2019 federal election.
“The award of funding reflected the approach documented by the minister’s office of focusing on ‘marginal’ electorates held by the coalition as well as those electorates held by other parties or independent members that were to be ‘targeted’ by the coalition at the 2019 election,” auditor-general Grant Hehir wrote in the report.
“Applications from projects located in those electorates were more successful in being awarded funding than if funding was allocated on the basis of merit assessed against the published program guidelines.”