Bridget McKenzie to be stood down for breach of Commonwealth Grants Guidelines

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We call on the Prime Minister to stand down the Minister for Agriculture (former Minister for Sport), Senator Bridget McKenzie for breaching the 2017 Commonwealth Grants Guidelines and Rules, and the Community Sport Infrastructure Grant Program Guidelines. The Prime Minister needs to send a message to the 58% of the population that did not vote for his government, that they are just as important and his government DOES govern for them.

The Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) report on the $100 million Community Sport Infrastructure Grant Program stated that the allocation of funds, “was not informed by an appropriate assessment process and sound advice”. Instead of the allocation of grant funding to those that were assessed far higher under the criteria by the independent experts, marginal seats were targeted in the lead up to the election.  This is evidence by the fact that in the third round, 73% of the approved projects had not been recommended by Sport Australia.

The Minister’s office has admitted that taxpayer’s money was not awarded in accordance with accepted government probity requirements. According to the ANAO report, “the award of funding reflected the approach documented by the Minister’s Office of focussing 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”.

This directly undermines probity and transparency processes, vital in any government within a democratic country. According to the ANAO, it does not appear that the Minister had any legal authority to hand out taxpayer’s money in this manner.

The Commonwealth Grants Rules and Guidelines (2017), approved by Minister of Finance, Mathias Cormann, includes probity and transparency as a key requirement.  These rules clearly relate to ethical behaviour, impartiality, separation of duties, real or perceived conflicts of interest, equity and merit-based decision making.  Minister McKenzie’s intrusion into the process has clearly breached these rules.

The Minister’s forward in the Community Sport Infrastructure Grant Program Guidelines states: “The program aims to ensure more Australians have access to quality sport infrastructure, encouraging greater community participation in sport and physical activity”.  It does not state it would only be those Australians that may help the government to be re-elected.  The ‘Program Overview and Objectives’ of the Guidelines do not support the allocation of these grants in terms of marginal seats, nor does the eligibility criteria.  Organisations outside of those marginal seats wasted considerable time applying for a grant they had no chance of receiving once the Minister stepped in and undermined the process.

In December 1993 when then ALP Minister of Sport, Ros Kelly, came under pressure because of the way in which the $30 million Community, Cultural, Recreation and Sporting Facilities Program was administered, there was quite rightly outrage from the public and the opposition.  Ms Kelly then resigned in January 1994.  The same standards need to apply across party lines.  If the Prime Minister does not demand Ms McKenzie’s resignation, or step in and stand her down, he is drawing a very unsettling line in the sand. That line says that an ALP government must be held to higher standards than a LNP government.  He is telling the country that his government can, and will, make decisions in its self-interest, and not in the best interests of the country.  He is saying that the rules do not apply to his government.

No government, Minister or official should be above the law, or the approved and proper processes designed to provide fairness in decision-making and comfort to the Australian tax payer that money is being appropriately spent.