Morrison under pressure over new sports rorts scandal

February 14, 2020
Bridget McKenzie was stood down but the PM is equally culpable. Photo: The Nationals/Bridget McKenzie

A second sports rorts scandal, involving senior levels of the Australian Public Service (APS), has highlighted just how institutionalised corruption is in the federal Coalition government.

The federal government has been found to have secretly diverted $150 million from last year’s budget that was designated to fund female sports change rooms and swimming pool upgrades.

The funds were instead allocated elsewhere, with $2 million being given to a Brisbane secondary school for a new swimming pool they did not request and $5.4 million for a tidal pool at Port Macquarie, New South Wales, which the local council said was “not a priority”.

As with the first controversial $100 million community sport infrastructure program, the projects funded through this scheme were mainly chosen from Coalition-held seats or those it was targeting to win. They included the seats of Braddon (Tasmania), Boothby (South Australia), Gilmore (NSW), Brisbane (Queensland), Corangamite (Victoria) and Pearce and Swan (Western Australia).

More than $110 million — 73% of the program — was spent in contested Coalition or marginal seats.

Moreover, the government has used senior public servants to facilitate its corruption.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison had referred the previous sports rorts affair to his department head Phil Gaetjens, an experienced chief-of-staff for several Liberal MPs. In his report, which has not been made public, Gaetjens found Nationals Senator and then-sports minister Bridget McKenzie had not shown political bias in her grant allocation.

McKenzie, however, was forced to step down from her current position as minister for agriculture due a minor conflict of interest — one of the grants went to a gun club she had joined.

Gaetjens's conclusions were evidently wrong.

The Auditor-General’s report into the first sports rort scandal found “evidence of distribution bias in the award of grant funding” by McKenzie.  

Former NSW auditor-general Tony Harris said on February 6 that “mismanagement” of the grants program “offers evidence of electoral bribery … If we move on now as the government wants, we tolerate government illegality.”

The Senate has established an inquiry into the first sports rorts scandal. The federal auditor-general will be called to comment on his findings and Gaetjens will be asked about his secret report. 

Meanwhile, the Australian Federal Police has said it will no longer pursue energy minister Angus Taylor for use of a forged document to libel Sydney Mayor Clover Moore and her council over travel expenses.

The AFP officially dropped its investigation on February 7, claiming there was “no evidence to indicate [Taylor] was involved in falsifying information.

It added that “the low level of harm” and Taylor's apology to Moore, along with “the significant level of resources required to investigate”, were factors in their decision.

Questioning the independence of the AFP, Moore told ABC on February 8: “The people might pay the salary, but they work for the government who appoints them.”

“I don't think until we have a federal ICAC [independent corruption commission] would we ever get to the bottom of matters like this — they're choosing not to investigate this matter.”

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