Email links PM to sports rort scandal
New information has come to light that appears to show Prime Minister Scott Morrison's office had a lot more to do with the "sports rort" scandal than his office has suggested.
Nationals deputy leader Bridget McKenzie has been under fire for weeks over her handling of $100 million in sports funding after it emerged she ignored advice from Sport Australia that had assessed the worthiness of recipients.
Instead, many of the favoured projects went to clubs marginal seats ahead of last year's election.
An investigation has been launched into the sporting grants scheme, with Cabinet secretary Philip Gaetjens also looking into a $36,000 grant the former sports minister awarded to a Victorian shooting club she is a member of.
For weeks Mr Morrison has denied any involvement in the scandal or the decisions made about the grant money.
"All we did was provide information on the representations made to us," the Prime Minister said at the National Press Club on Wednesday.
However, on Friday evening Network 10 political editor Peter van Onselen said he had obtained an email that he has claimed proved Mr Morrison's office had the grants list and directly informed Ms McKenzie's office about changes that needed to be made.
The email was sent to Sport Australia from Ms McKenzie's senior adviser Rebecca Johnson.
"We have just been advised by the PM's office that there have been some projects on the list funded under another grants program. So we have been asked to make a slight adjustment," it read.
That "slight adjustment" suggested the PM's office was far more hands on with the program than it has previously said.
Though the email didn't refer to a specific project, Van Onselen said it did highlight the electorates affected by the change.
These included Queensland Nationals MP Keith Pitt's seat of Hinkler, Victorian Nationals MP Darren Chester's seat of Gippsland and Tasmanian independent MP Andrew Wilke's seat of Denison.
A spokesman for Mr Morrison told Network 10 that "neither the Prime Minister nor his office directed the Minister to fund a specific project".
Ms Mckenzie's office said they wouldn't be making a comment until the (investigation) process is complete.
Labor MP Chris Bowen told the network that the scandal was "pure and simple political corruption of a process".
"If the government thinks they can arrogantly smirk their way through it and it will go away, I'm afraid they are sadly mistaken," he said.
Since Mr Morrison ordered his department secretary to look into the handling of the program, more damaging revelations have highlighted the scale of ministerial intervention.
Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese said the Gaetjens review was unnecessary because the auditor-general had already condemned Senator McKenzie's actions. "This is a farce and it's about time that Bridget McKenzie resigned her position and if she won't do that, the prime minister should sack her," he told reporters in Sydney.
"The only thing that could be possibly holding that back is the direct involvement of the Prime Minister's office in this tawdry rort that has seen legitimate sporting clubs miss out in favour of this political process."
The auditor-general found 73 per cent of the projects Ms McKenzie approved were not recommended by Sport Australia.
But the most damning aspects of the case have come to light this week after ABC obtained spreadsheets used by Ms McKenzie's office to determine which clubs would receive grants, colour-coded by which political party held the seat.
It revealed that 94 of 223 projects deemed "successful" in the first round of funding would have fallen short of Sport Australia's threshold.
The report also revealed that some of the projects that were deemed most worthy of funding missed out.
Sport Australia gave each project a ranking out of 100 based on three criteria: community participation (50 per cent), community need (25 per cent) and project design and delivery (25 per cent).
The cut-off for funding was reportedly a score of 74 out of 100.
Yet one of the biggest grants went to Pakenham Football Club in the marginal seat of La Trobe in Victoria. It got a $500,000 grant to build changing rooms for female footballers and netballers despite receiving a score of 50 out of 100.
The prime minister has continually insisted all projects were eligible and claims the program was not about saving the coalition's skin at the election.