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Dutton’s McKenzie defence fails audit test

2020-02-10 10:58:00

AAP FactCheck Investigation: Did deputy Nationals leader Bridget McKenzie fund programs that were recommended for funding?

The Statement

“Bridget McKenzie made recommendations, as I understand it, on advice from the sporting body that these programs that have been funded were recommended.”

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton. January 23, 2020.

The Analysis

Deputy National Party leader Bridget McKenzie is under heavy pressure over her handing of a sports grants scheme that was found to have given money to clubs in marginal Coalition seats and electorates targeted by the Coalition government for the 2019 election.

As Senator McKenzie resists calls to resign from the ministry, and the Prime Minister’s department investigates the sports grants affair, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton has launched a strident defence of his cabinet colleague.

Talking to 2GB radio host Ray Hadley on Thursday, January 23, Mr Dutton said it was “appropriate” that the PM’s office investigated and people should be reassured by that process.

“But we’re not hanging people out to dry, we’re not listening to the Twitter crazies,” Mr Dutton said.

“Bridget McKenzie made recommendations, as I understand it, on advice from the sporting body that these programs that have been funded were recommended.”

Mr Dutton repeated his position on Nine’s Today Show on Friday morning, saying “There was no funding provided to a project that wasn’t recommended.”

Bridget McKenzie and Peter Dutton Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton has defended Senator Bridget McKenzie over a sports grant scandal

AAP FactCheck examined the claim that Senator McKenzie approved funding for programs that were recommended by Sport Australia, the government agency responsible for administering the grants program.

The Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) looked into the Community Sport Infrastructure Grant Program (CSIG) following a request from shadow attorney general Mark Dreyfus after a Liberal candidate for the 2019 federal election awarded a funding cheque to a local bowling club, rather than the sitting independent MP.

The ANAO assessed the handling of the program, which handed out $100 million of taxpayer funds across 684 projects. The money was distributed over three rounds in December 2018, February 2019 and April 2019.

Senator McKenzie, currently Minister for Agriculture, was the Minister for Sport at the time and was responsible for awarding the funding.

In its report, published on January 15, 2020, the ANAO assessed the handling of each round of funding.

For Round 1, the ANAO found that the applications recommended were chosen by the minister’s office rather than Sport Australia. The report concluded: “Ninety-one (41 per cent) of the approved projects were not on the list of 426 endorsed by the Sport Australia board.”

For Round 2, the ANAO found Sport Australia “did not play a role in deciding which applications should be recommended”. Sport Australia had identified 204 applications to recommend to the minister’s office but did not provide them. The minister’s office told Sport Australia which applications would be approved. The report found: “One hundred and sixty-two (70 per cent) of the approved projects were not on the list of 204 applications Sport Australia planned to recommend.”

For Round 3, the ANAO again found Sport Australia was not involved in deciding on recommendations. Sport Australia did identify 245 applications for recommendation but the minister’s office had already told the body which applications would be approved. The report stated: “One hundred and sixty-seven (73 per cent) of the approved projects had not been recommended by Sport Australia.”

Among its findings, the ANAO said there was “evidence of distribution bias in the award of grant funding” and that the award of funding “was not consistent with the assessed merit of applications”.

“The award of funding reflected the approach documented by the Minister’s Office of focusing 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 at the 2019 Election,” the ANAO report said.

The auditor’s report concluded that: “The successful applications were not those that had been assessed as the most meritorious in terms of the published program guidelines”.

AAP FactCheck emailed Mr Dutton’s office on January 24 to ask what basis Mr Dutton had for saying Senator McKenzie made recommendations on advice from Sport Australia.

In an emailed response, a spokesperson for Mr Dutton said: “The Minister doesn’t have anything further to add to what he has stated publicly.”

Based on the evidence, AAP FactCheck has found Mr Dutton’s statement that Senator McKenzie made recommendations on advice from Sport Australia does not reflect the findings of the ANAO report.

The Verdict

False – The checkable claims are all false.