PM’s of­fice moved on clubs, but choices were min­is­ter’s

The Australian - - FRONT PAGE - OLIVIA CAISLEY

Au­di­tor-Gen­eral Grant He­hir has con­firmed the Prime Min­is­ter’s Of­fice made “di­rect and in­di­rect” rep­re­sen­ta­tions on be­half of grass­roots clubs ap­ply­ing for sport­ing grants as part of the con­tro­ver­sial Com­mu­nity Sport In­fra­struc­ture pro­gram.

But Mr He­hir, giv­ing ev­i­dence on Thurs­day on the first day of an in­quiry into the sports rorts af­fair, cau­tioned that it was clear for­mer sports min­is­ter Brid­get McKen­zie was the “de­ci­sion-maker” be­hind the scenes.

Au­di­tor-Gen­eral Grant He­hir has con­firmed the Prime Min­is­ter’s Of­fice made “di­rect and in­di­rect” rep­re­sen­ta­tions on be­half of grass­roots clubs ap­ply­ing for sport­ing grants as part of the con­tro­ver­sial Com­mu­nity Sport In­fra­struc­ture pro­gram.

How­ever, Mr He­hir cau­tioned that it was clear for­mer sports min­is­ter Brid­get McKen­zie was the “de­ci­sion-maker” be­hind the scenes, as not all sug­ges­tions put for­ward by the PMO ma­te­ri­alised.

Giv­ing ev­i­dence on Thurs­day on the first day of an in­quiry into the sports rorts af­fair, which claimed the scalp of Senator McKen­zie this month, Mr He­hir said the award­ing of grant fund­ing un­der the pro­gram was not in­formed by an “ap­pro­pri­ate as­sess­ment process and sound ad­vice”.

He said the par­al­lel process run by Senator McKen­zie’s of­fice along­side that of gov­ern­ment agency Sport Aus­tralia “was not in­formed by clear ad­vice and … not con­sis­tent with the pro­gram guide­lines”.

Dur­ing La­bor’s line of ques­tion­ing, the ini­tial Aus­tralian Na­tional Au­dit Of­fice claim seized on by Scott Mor­ri­son that no in­el­i­gi­ble project was funded un­der the scheme was thrown into doubt.

The au­dit of­fice’s Brian Boyd said at least half the clubs that got fund­ing “were in­el­i­gi­ble” by the time they re­ceived it be­cause of de­lays in the min­is­te­rial over­sight of the scheme.

“We get to around 43 per cent of those which were awarded fund­ing, by the time the fund­ing agree­ment was signed, were in­el­i­gi­ble,” Mr Boyd said.

A gov­ern­ment spokesman told The Aus­tralian, “as the ANAO’s own report high­lights, ‘ no applicatio­ns as­sessed as in­el­i­gi­ble were awarded grant fund­ing’.”

Mr He­hir con­firmed that if the merit list de­vised by Sport Aus­tralia had been fol­lowed, La­bor seats would have re­ceived the same per­cent­age of fund­ing they ended up with us­ing Senator McKen­zie’s method.

Mr Boyd said “com­fort­ably dozens” of emails were ex­changed be­tween the Prime Min­is­ter’s Of­fice and Senator McKen­zie’s of­fice dur­ing the grants process.

He also con­firmed that project ap­proval os­cil­lated wildly be­tween yes and no, some­times within hours, with no rea­sons recorded.

Mr He­hir said in his open­ing state­ment: “It is poor prac­tice for en­ti­ties to be in­structed what their ad­vice should rec­om­mend rather than pro­vid­ing their own rec­om­men­da­tions that are de­vel­oped through an ev­i­dence-based ap­proach.

“Po­ten­tial ap­pli­cants and other stake­hold­ers have a right to ex­pect pro­gram fund­ing de­ci­sions will be made in a man­ner and on a ba­sis con­sis­tent with pub­lished pro­gram guide­lines.’’

The Au­di­tor-Gen­eral said the ANAO pored over the de­tails of the pro­gram, spend­ing 3800 hours over 10 months re­view­ing the grants. It was also re­vealed there were at least 28 ver­sions of a con­tro­ver­sial in­ter­nal spread­sheet with a colour-coded break­down of what party held the seats where po­ten­tial projects were based.

A sep­a­rate probe con­ducted by the sec­re­tary of Prime Min­is­ter and Cab­i­net, Philip Gaet­jens, found the scheme was above­board. How­ever, his report has not been made pub­lic.

Mr Boyd con­firmed the au­dit of­fice had not seen a copy of the Gaet­jens report, but wouldn’t spec­u­late on its find­ings be­cause “that’s not what au­di­tors do”.

The hear­ing con­tin­ues.

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