Bridget McKenzie engulfed in new scandal
SENIOR cabinet member Bridget McKenzie reportedly awarded a shooting club nearly $36,000 without declaring she was a member.
The auditor-general found the former sports minister allocated most of $100 million in sports grants to groups in seats the coalition was targeting at the last election.
The Nationals deputy leader approved the windfall for her clay target shooting club in a regional Victoria electorate that was then held by independent MP Cathy McGowan, Nine newspapers reported.
The auditor-general found 73 per cent of the projects Senator McKenzie approved were not recommended by Sport Australia.
Senator McKenzie granted on February 25 last year - less than three months before Scott Morrison's upset election win - $35,980 to the Wangaratta Clay Target Club from the Community Sports Infrastructure Grant.
She made the announcement alongside Nationals candidate Mark Byatt who was contesting the seat that was eventually won by independent MP Helen Haines.
Senator McKenzie failed to disclose she was a member of the club when her senator's register of interests was last updated on November 21.
Senator McKenzie has refused to apologise, while Mr Morrison and Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack are backing the under-fire minister.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, whose electorate was awarded more than $700,000 from the sports grants program, also defended his colleague.
"Grants right across the electorate, for Labor and Liberal members, and National party members alike, applied through the proper processes, received the grants, they were all eligible and the money is being well spent," Mr Frydenberg told 2GB radio.
The PM also continues to back the senator, telling Sunrise earlier this week that the sports grant program had been done by the book.
"Every single one of the projects approved was eligible, every rule followed in relation to the program. The rules were followed. We are looking closely at the report," Mr Morrison said.
Former PM Tony Abbott also received half a million dollars under the program in late April, just a few weeks before the federal election on May 17.
Mr Abbott tweeted pictures of himself and Senator McKenzie handing over the $500,000 to Mosman Rowing Club, declaring the government was "helping the great sport of rowing across our country".
Mr Abbott would go on to lose his seat to independent Zali Steggall at the federal election.
It was wonderful to welcome @senbmckenzie to the Mosman Rowing Club down at the Spit. By investing $500,000 in the Mosman Rowing Club, we're helping the great sport of rowing across our country... pic.twitter.com/wBROWXUX9j— Tony Abbott (@HonTonyAbbott) April 24, 2019
The controversy has also been flagged by a leading law firm, which today confirmed it was investigating a class action over the federal government's $100 million community sports scandal.
Slater and Gordon's class actions practice group leader Andrew Baker said tens of millions of dollars in sporting club grants were awarded to clubs whose applications for funding would otherwise have been unsuccessful.
Mr Baker said that the clubs Sport Australia decided were worthy of funding but missed out may have rights to seek legal remedies.
"Every dollar that went to a club whose application should have been unsuccessful is a dollar that didn't end up with a club that Sport Australia had identified and recommended for funding in the course of proper processes," Mr Baker said in a statement yesterday.
"These community organisations, clubs and groups have lost out because it appears public funds were used for political gain."
Former Labor sports minister Ros Kelly stepped down from the ministry and then parliament in 1995 following a similar scandal.