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Top public servant grilled on sports rorts

Australia’s top public servant has hit back at criticism his investigation into the infamous sports rorts saga was limited.

Prime Minister and Cabinet secretary Philip Gaetjens defended his inquiry into former sports minister Bridget McKenzie’s handling of the controversial $100 million program.

At a Senate hearing in Canberra on Wednesday, Mr Gaetjens bristled at suggestions his investigation should have looked closely at how the grants were allocated.

“I will not stand by here and just be criticised for saying it’s a limited process. My job was not to replicate the auditor-general,” he told senators.

“I wasn’t necessarily interested in the process, it was the outcomes.”

He insisted the scope of the investigation was to check if Senator McKenzie breached ministerial standards.

The Gatejens report concluded the sport grants were not used for political purposes, despite the auditor-general’s finding the scheme favoured coalition-targeted seats before the 2019 election.

The secretary found Senator McKenzie breached the standards by not declaring membership of a gun club that received funding.

At the hearing, Mr Gaetjens revealed he didn’t know about taxpayers’ money being spent through the sports rorts program during the pre-election caretaker period.

Mr Gaetjens also denied knowledge of communication between the prime minister’s office and Senator McKenzie’s staff about the program.

The inquiry heard 136 emails relating to the scheme went between the offices of Scott Morrison and Senator McKenzie.

Mr Gaetjens said changes to grants made after last year’s election was called did not form part of his investigation, conducted in January, because he wasn’t aware of them.

He said it didn’t warrant further attention once he had found out because Senator McKenzie had quit.

“By that time the minister had resigned. Why does one need to have a look at something when the minister has resigned?” Mr Gaetjens told the hearing.

Labor frontbencher Katy Gallagher said it was extraordinary Mr Gaetjens didn’t have a closer look at the issue.

“Oh come on Mr Gaetjens, you’re the head of the public service. It doesn’t bother you taxpayers funds are being spent after caretaker kicks in?” she said.

Mr Gaetjens said he would have to look at the funding decisions in greater detail, but noted taxpayer funds could be allocated in caretaker mode.

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