An inquiry into the ‘sports rorts’ scandal says the Morrison government tried to avoid handing over evidence. 

A Senate inquiry, dominated by Labor and the Greens, has tabled its final report into the Community Sports Infrastructure Grants program (CSIG).

The report savages the government’s management of the $100 million scheme. It found major flaws in the management of what was described as a “pre-election slush fund”.

The Community Sport Infrastructure Grant Program was established to give more Australians access to quality sporting facilities, encouraging greater community participation in sport and physical activity.

Sport Australia was meant to administer the program and approve projects based on three weighted criteria: community participation (50 per cent); community need (25 per cent); and project design and delivery (25 per cent).

All eligible applications subjectively assessed as meeting the criteria were provided to the Sport Australia board for their endorsement and the Minister for Sport as the final funding decision-maker.

While the intention was for the board and minister simply to sign off on the extent to which the proposals met the program objectives, it was turned into an opportunity to hand funds to friendly or marginal electorates. 

The Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) released a report in January 2020 that found a disproportionate number of grants had been awarded to clubs in marginal Coalition seats, or electorates the government was hoping to snatch at the May 2019 poll.

This week’s report reinforces that finding. 

“The evidence available to the committee indicates clearly that the Prime Minister's office, and likely the Prime Minister, were aware of the use of electorate information to identify projects in marginal and targeted electorates well before the first grant recipient was announced,” the Senate inquiry report states.

“The minister's office made substantive changes to the list of approved projects during the course of the CSIG program, resulting in a shift from projects located in safe electorates to those located in Coalition-held electorates considered marginal or 'target' electorates held by the Australian Labor Party or Independent candidates.

“Nine of the 10 electorates that received the most funding were identified as marginal or targeted.”

It also slammed the government’s apparent obstructionism. 

“The committee has faced significant obstruction in its attempts to gather evidence that would explain who was involved and responsible for grant decisions (including the extent of involvement of the Prime Minister and others), what were the reasons for decisions, and whether those decisions were made in accordance with the law,” the inquiry report states.

“Documents that go to these questions were sought on multiple occasions by the committee, and individual senators, through all available mechanisms within the Senate.”

The committee found “overwhelming evidence” that then-sports minister Bridget McKenzie and the Prime Minister's Office used the fund for “gaining political advantage for Coalition candidates in the 2019 federal election by favouring applicants located in marginal and 'targeted' electorates”.

The Senate report recommends funding be provided for all of the sporting clubs which missed out on grants in the initial allocation.

It called on the Senate to continue demanding documents relating to the program be tabled in the Upper House.

It also said the ANAO’s funding should be boosted and secured so that it can continue its vital scrutiny of government programs.

The two Coalition members of the inquiry, senators Matt Canavan and Eric Abetz, issued a dissenting report that describes the sports grants program as an “outstanding success”.