A federal government minister sees no reason to apologise despite the auditor-general finding she awarded grants from a $100 million fund based on electorates the coalition wanted to win, rather than merit.
The independent review of the community sports grant program has slammed the government’s use of the fund, finding most of the grants were awarded in seats targeted by the coalition during last year’s federal election campaign.
Former sports minister Bridget McKenzie was in charge of approving the grants, but the audit has questioned whether she had the legal authority to do so.
The report found that instead of choosing programs based on work done by Sport Australia, Senator McKenzie’s office used a parallel assessment process.
Asked whether she would apologise for how the $100 million was handled, the deputy Nationals leader said “Not at all”.
The now-Agriculture Minister defended the successful applications, saying they were eligible to apply.
“No rules were broken in this program,” Senator McKenzie told ABC radio on Thursday.
“The reality was there were many hundreds of meritorious projects that we just didn’t have the funding available for.”
The audit was sparked by Labor after Liberal candidate Georgina Downer doled out a $127,000 cheque for a local bowling club in South Australia as part of the program during the election campaign.
Nine of the 10 electorates approved to receive the most money were either marginal seats or ones being eyed by the coalition.
These seats would have received less funding if Sports Australia merit assessments had been used.
More than 60 per cent of applications were funded despite not reaching the necessary assessment score.
Nine of the 10 electorates that received the least funding were Labor seats and “safe” government seats.
Labor has called for Senator McKenzie to resign.
Opposition frontbencher Tony Burke said he’s never seen an auditor-general’s report with such a funding.
“It wasn’t even her money to misappropriate,” he told ABC news.
“And they did anyway. This says everything about Scott Morrison.”
Independent MP for Warringah Zali Steggall said it shows Australia needs a national integrity commission with “real powers”.