Bridget McKenzie's fall? Not enough to end rorting affair as we learn scope of 'ineligible' grants

Bridget McKenzie’s fall? Not enough to end rorting affair as we learn scope of ‘ineligible’ grants

If you thought the sports rorts scandal that has plagued the Coalition Government was over with the resignation of then Sports Minister Bridget McKenzie, you’re very much mistaken.

This scandal is not going away and nor should it. Especially after a senate inquiry on Thursday heard that around 43 per cent of the 290 projects funded under the $100 million program were “ineligible” when agreements were signed.

This contradicts just how the Morrison Government has been defending their handling of the affair, by stating that all projects funded were “eligible” — following revelations that Sport Australia recommendations for how the funding should be distributed had been ignored as projects in marginal and targeted seats were favoured.

The “all the projects were eligible” line was heard over and over again by the Coalition Government in its attempts to dismiss there being any problem with the program, with Treasurer Josh Frydenberg stating such words, along with Attorney-General Christian Porter and Bridget McKenzie herself, prior to resigning.

And Prime Minister Scott Morrison also cited the “eligible” defence.

“Ever single one of the projects approved was eligible, every rule followed in relation to the program,” he told Seven’s Sunrise on January 20.

A reminder, McKenzie was pressured to quit not for using the sports grants program for political advantage, but rather for failing to declare her membership of gun organisations.

It was a quick attempt by the Morrison Government to try and end speculation over how marginal seats were favoured in the allocations of the sports grants, following that finding of “distribution bias” by the audit report into decisions made in the program.

Now the Australian National Audit Office has revealed there were “direct” representations regarding which projects to fund made by the prime minister’s office, along with the fact many of the projects that were eligible at the time of assessment had become ineligible.

According to Brian Boyd, group executive director at the ANAO, while Sport Australia had initially assessed all of the projects as eligible, many failed to meet the rules by the time the funding agreements were concluded. This was due to technicalities like late applications being taken on board, and amendments to existing applications being made. “The guidelines’ eligibility requirements don’t end just when you’ve lodged the application. That is common across many grants programs,” Boyd said.

This affair has a long road to go as further questions are asked about the scheme, which the PM said just a few weeks back was about ensuring “girls didn’t have to change out the back of the shed”.

We now know that projects that would have prevented girls and women from having to do just that were overlooked as the funding was distributed. For instance, the female footballers at the South Adelaide Football club, which sits in the Labor seat of Kingston, saw their applications for change rooms rejected — at the same time that a rugby club in the Coalition held marginal seat of Sturt saw their female change rooms approved, despite being a club with no female players, according to documents leaked to the ABC.

Today, The Guardian has also revealed that as Minister Bridget McKenzie used a “spare” $150,000 in federal money to fund a study on the benefits of shooting, rather than an event for intellectually impaired athletes, with $200,000 for the 2019 Brisbane-based INAS Global Game initially denied — although it later received funding from a seperate process after further lobbying.

The Morrison Government hoped this scandal would go away, simply by citing its “eligible” talking points.

But those talking points have now been dismissed.

Expect to hear more on this scandal. It’s one we absolutely shouldn’t forget.

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