Bridget McKenzie has continued to defend the controversial grants program despite losing her cabinet job and the Nationals deputy leadership over the scandal.
The former sport minister resigned because she was found to have broken ministerial rules by not declaring memberships of gun clubs that received funding under the $100 million program.
“I accept that my failure to declare my membership to certain sports shooting clubs in a timely manner constituted a breach of the ministerial standards,” Senator McKenzie told reporters in Canberra.
“That is something I take very, very seriously.”
While she did not personally benefit, it was a breach of ministerial standards.
“I do not accept that those memberships were a conflict of interest,” Senator McKenzie said.
“I received no personal benefit. They did not inform my decision-making at all.”
Senator McKenzie joined the chorus of senior government figures clinging to Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet secretary Philip Gaetjens’ finding the program was not pork barrelling.
That is despite the use of a colour-coded spreadsheet to designate marginal and target seats.
The Gaetjens report stands in stark contrast to one compiled by the Australian National Audit Office, which found the scheme was heavily skewed towards coalition-held and targeted seats.
“There was no political bias in my decision-making,” Senator McKenzie said.
She described the program as a “good thing” given 684 clubs received funding.
Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack believes the department’s report, rather than the auditor-general’s.
“You’re always going to have some times when people look at things, they look at things in a different light,” the Nationals leader told reporters in Canberra.
“I believe the PM&C report that was handed down, I believe that there was no bias.”
Mr Gaetjens was Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s chief of staff before becoming Australia’s top public servant.
Labor will pursue the sports rorts scandal through an upper house inquiry, despite Senator McKenzie’s resignation from cabinet.
Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese said Senator McKenzie had been “thrown under a bus” so that Mr Morrison could avoid any responsibility.
Labor wants to know more about the role of the prime minister’s office in the grants scheme.
“Bridget McKenzie is the only sports player to ever be sacked for following the instructions of her coach,” Mr Albanese said.
“It’s very clear that the prime minister’s office was involved in this. It’s clear that there was rorting.”
Nationals frontbencher Darren Chester called for greater transparency of similar programs, suggesting every electorate should get a pool of money to allocate.
“One person’s pork barrel is another person’s legitimate project,” he told Sky News.
It is widely expected Queensland minister David Littleproud will take over as Nationals deputy leader on Tuesday.
A new community sports grants scheme is expected to be announced in the May budget, with the government promising greater transparency and accountability.