Bridget McKenzie breaks silence on secret sports rorts report

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Bridget McKenzie says she has “no regrets” about her conduct despite a revelation she displayed “some significant shortcomings” in her oversight of a grants program.

The secret report by former secretary of the prime minister and cabinet department Phil Gaetjens was released last week and slammed the “lack of transparency” behind the decision-making process.

Responding to the report for the first time on Sunday, the former sports minister said she stood by her decisions.

“When I was briefed on the Gaetjens report a couple of years ago now, Mr Gaetjens made clear that there was a perceived breach of ministerial standards with respect to a gifted membership that wasn’t declared in a timely matter,” Senator McKenzie told Sky News.

“I would say it played no role in my decision making, but in the interests of my own personal integrity when you are faced with a question about whether you, as a minister have breached ministerial standards, the only appropriate action then is to resign, which I did.”

Senator McKenzie resigned from cabinet in early 2020 after Mr Gaetjens concluded his probe. While a summary of the report was published at the time the full inquiry was not released.

The investigation was ordered after a scathing auditor general report found the grant program had bias towards marginal government seats the Coalition was targeting in the lead up to the 2019 election.

It was later revealed Senator McKenzie’s office had input the 2,000 applications into a spreadsheet and colour coded them based on the party that held the electorate.

In his report, Mr Gatejens said there were “concerns about the decision-making” but had not found evidence political considerations had fuelled how grants were allocated.

But it did find Senator McKenzie breached ministerial standards by not declaring she was a member of the Wangaratta Clay Target Club which received a grant of $36,000.

“This lack of transparency, coupled with the significant divergences between projects recommended by Sport Australia and those approved by the minister, has given rise to concerns about the decision-making,” he wrote.

“Those submitting grant funding applications had, in my view, a right to more fully understand the basis on which the funding decisions were being made.”

Asked if she accepted Mr Gaetjens characterisation of her conduct, Senator McKenzie said she remained “proud” of the project.

“He also said that I acted within my remit as a minister within the guidelines, etc, of the policy portfolio. So I remain proud of that project,” she said.

Senator McKenzie refused to agree she had been hard done by the report but did say she wanted ministerial standard breaches to be dealt with “consistently” going forward.

“I have absolutely no regrets about my decisions at the time,” she added.

Originally published as Bridget McKenzie breaks silence on sports rorts report, kept secret for years


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