Where do we even begin with this story? It was the biggest story of 2020 and looked like seriously damaging the Morrison government until the Corona Virus came along and the media moved on. It’s not over yet, but here’s the story so far (up to April 2020).
It all began in the lead up to the last election. The government used a $100m community sports program as a fund to shower money in marginal seats it was targeting. The guidelines set out criteria covering potential participation, need and project design, which were assessed by government agency Sport Australia. Volunteers spent hundreds of hours seeking to impress assessors with their applications. The Government ultimately allocated funding to 684 applicants, leaving more than 1,300 without funding. It became apparent that Senator McKenzie was rejecting recommendations made to her by Sport Australia and choosing recipients herself, hence all the fuss, and the National Audit Office getting involved.
These grants are quite normal, usually, and administered by Sports Australia. Any sports club can apply and they are given a score out of 100. There were 2,056 applicants last years and the cutoff score for funding was 74/100. However, a total of 417 applicants were approved (61% of applicants) that had a score of less than 74. Most of those applicants were in either LNP seats or Marginal seats that the LNP hoped to win at the election.
It was clearly used for political purposes instead of what it was intended for. The National Audit Office came to this conclusion too – see the report from the Auditor General here: https://theaustralianatnewscorpau.files.wordpress.com/2020/01/auditor-general_report_2019-2020_23.pdf
The report summarises:
As Katharine Murphy writes in the Guardian: “McKenzie signed a brief detailing the successful grants (which were listed at attachments) on 4 April. Subsequent to that there was email traffic between McKenzie’s office and Morrison’s office, and between McKenzie’s office and Sport Australia. This all happened on 10 April and 11 April – the day the parliament was prorogued for the 2019 election. Caretaker conventions were in effect from 8.30am on 11 April.” So, decisions were made on spending taxpayers’ money – after parliament had been prorogued! That’s dodgy.
The LNP’s so-called Miracle Win was suddenly not so miraculous after all.
So, how did it all end? Well, Brigid McKenzie resigned, but not for this. She resigned because she forgot to declare her membership of a shooting club!!!! She accepted no responsibility for the sports rorts.
A great timeline of the saga is here.
If you prefer to listen there’s a great podcast here.
The ABC explains the saga better than I can – see here.
There are some good links below if you’d like more background. I’ll be posting separate stories about some of the more ‘colourful’ grants.
Michael Pascoe goes back over the maths on government grant rorts – https://thenewdaily.com.au/news/national/2020/03/03/michael-pascoe-liberal-grants-costs/
Sports rorts: almost half the projects funded were ineligible, audit office says – https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2020/feb/13/sports-rorts-almost-half-projects-funded-ineligible-audit-office-says
Clubs that missed out – These are the 50 top-rated clubs denied sports grant funding. They want answers
I’ll leave the Final say to Guardian Australia who did some great work on this: Coalition dished out $636m in grants in six months before 2019 election
Postscript 11 May 2020 – It’s been revealed that the Minister was told to seek the PM’s authority for the grants, despite the PM telling Parliament that “there was no authorisation provided by me as prime minister on the projects”. Full story here: https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2020/may/11/scott-morrison-denies-misleading-parliament-over-sports-rorts-saga and here: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-05-08/labor-sports-grants-prime-minister-email-bridget-mckenzie/12229924Tweet