‘Not the point’: Karl slams Dutton
FURY continues to mount over the government's sports funding scandal, with a lacklustre defence by Peter Dutton on breakfast television drawing the ire of Karl Stefanovic.
A damning report this week from the Auditor-General exposed the "biased" operation of a $100 million grants scheme that was manipulated on the eve of the election to funnel cash into marginal seats the Coalition desperately needed to win.
Bridget McKenzie, who was the minister for sport at the time, overruled independent advice from Sports Australia and ran her own process to award 684 payments in a manner that favoured knife-edge seats the government needed to win or was targeting.
Defending the besieged Senator on Today this morning, Mr Dutton, the Home Affairs Minister, denied that she should be sacked and insisted no rules were broken.
"That's not the point," Stefanovic fired back. "The point is that nine of the ten electorates awarded the most money were either marginal seats or ones the Coalition were hoping to win.
"I mean, that is a damning figure. That is pork-barrelling of the highest order. It's been stacked."
An investigation revealed that more than 60 per cent of projects that received funding weren't recommended by Sports Australia under the existing selection criteria.
"Applications from projects located in those electorates were more successful in being awarded funding than if funding was allocated on the basis of merit assessed against the published program guidelines," Auditor-General Grant Hehir found.
In addition, advice from Sport Australia on which applicants should receive the funding was ignored, with Senator McKenzie's office instead running its own "assessments", the explosive audit determined.
"The important point is that the money has gone out, not against recommendations, not to clubs that weren't deserving of it," Mr Dutton said.
But that claim is contrary to the Auditor-General's findings that recommendations from Sports Australia were disregarded by Senator McKenzie.
Stefanovic slammed the process as "just not fair" and raised the need for an integrity and corruption body at a federal level.
"She's done something wrong here and something needs to be done about her behaviour," he said.
Labor leader Anthony Albanese slammed what he called "a government that is arrogant" and said Senator McKenzie's position was untenable.
"This is just a disgrace," Mr Albanese told reporters.
"You have circumstances whereby there is an Australian sports body, made up of experts, due to make recommendations about these grants and they were ignored in favour of political decisions as if they were election commitments, but they weren't even that.
"They were funding from decisions by a minister with no basis that ignored the advice that was given to her."
Deputy Opposition leader Richard Marles, also appearing on Today, described the scheme as "rotten".
"There are hundreds of clubs out there who are furious about what's gone on here," Mr Marles said. "Most of the recommendations of Sports Australia were ignored by Bridget McKenzie. That's a disgrace."
Yesterday, Senator McKenzie refused to apologise for orchestrating the preferential grants program and labelled calls for her to step down as being "absolutely ridiculous".
Anger over the scandal isn't just coming from Labor, with independent Tasmanian Senator Jacqui Lambie demanding "consequences for this shocking behaviour".
"Where is our PM on this?" Senator Lambie said. "Bridge McKenzie should resign now."
She also said she would support a Senate Inquiry into the scheme.
Fellow independent Zali Steggall, who snatched former PM Tony Abbott's Sydney seat of Warringah at the May 18 poll, also called for Senator McKenzie to go.
"She's completely lost if she doesn't think she needs to acknowledge that there's something wrong with cheating kids and community sports clubs … I just think it's disgusting," Ms Steggall told ABC radio today.
"We really need a national integrity commission, there needs to be some accountability. How low are you prepared to let the standard drop?"
Ms Steggall compared Prime Minister Scott Morrison's silence and lack of intervention to the Aussie cricket team's sandpaper-ball tampering scandal. Then-captain Steve Smith copped a one-year ban from the sport for his failure to prevent cheating within the team he led.
"We saw the outcry with the cricketers, and they took responsibility, they acknowledged where they had gone wrong and where their standards had slipped," Ms Steggall said.
"The standards of the members of your team, they're a direct reflection on the standards of you as a captain."
Yesterday, Labor's Tony Burke told ABC News 24 that there "wasn't even clear legal authority" for the grants to be awarded in the lead-up to the election.
"Sports Australia were of the view that it was their decision," Mr Burke said.
"The Department of Health, which was the department in charge, the administering department, their view was the same and they said if the minister wanted to make the decision the minister would have to get fresh legal advice.
"The minister chose to not get fresh legal advice. They just went and did it anyway."
Opposition spokesman for sport Don Farrell told Radio National on Thursday that the grants were awarded in April, just weeks out from the May 18 poll.
"More than 400 grassroots sports club had their applications, which were highly regarded by Sport Australia, thrown out by this government so they could funnel money into marginal seats instead," Senator Farrell said.
"A full list of the projects hand-picked by Bridget McKenzie and those that missed out because of the Morrison Government's pork-barrelling must be released immediately.
"The Morrison Government's shameless politicisation of taxpayers' money meant for community sports clubs is appalling, unacceptable and cannot go unpunished."
He too demanded that Senator McKenzie be sacked.
Responding to the storm of criticism yesterday, Senator McKenzie insisted she'd done nothing wrong and refused to apologise.
"Right now, as a result of our investment, parents are watching their kids get active on a Saturday morning instead of going down to Bunnings and cooking sausages to earn money," she told the Radio National program.