Morrison’s top bureaucrat defends his report on sports rorts


While the Auditor-General concluded applications in marginal and target electorates were more successful, Mr Gaetjens said his analysis of the underlying data led him to a different conclusion.

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“The evidence I have reviewed does not support the suggestion that political considerations were the primary determining factor in the minister’s decision to approve the grants,” he wrote on Friday to the Senate committee.

“On this basis, and while there were shortcomings in the administration of the program, I concluded Senator McKenzie did not act in breach of the standards with respect to fairness.”

The findings are at odds with the testimony from Auditor-General Grant Hehir and senior auditor Brian Boyd to the Senate inquiry on Thursday night, when they contradicted the government’s key claim that no ineligible projects were funded.

The submission from Mr Gaetjens is the first public document to shed light on his private advice to Mr Morrison two weeks ago, which has been kept secret but was considered by cabinet and led Senator McKenzie to resign as minister.

Mr Gaetjens confirms he found Senator McKenzie breached ministerial standards by failing to declare her membership of organisations that received funding, as revealed by The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald on January 22.

Senators from Labor, the Greens and the crossbench have been furious at the government’s refusal to release Mr Gaetjens’ advice ahead of a Senate hearing where he is likely to be called to explain his conclusions.

The submission disputes the calculations at the heart of the Auditor-General’s report and concludes that more electorates received cash because of the minister’s intervention to change decisions made by the independent agency, Sport Australia.

The Sport Australia recommendations would have left 30 electorates without any successful projects, while the minister’s decisions meant only five electorates missed out.

“I did not find evidence that the separate funding approval process conducted in the minister’s office was unduly influenced by reference to ‘marginal’ or ‘targeted’ electorates,” Mr Gaetjens wrote.

“Evidence provided to me indicated that the adviser’s spreadsheet was developed by one member of staff in the minister’s office, using information provided by Sport Australia in September 2018, as a worksheet to support an increase in funding for the program.”

These conclusions are the most detailed rebuttal of the Auditor-General’s analysis one day after Mr Boyd told the Senate inquiry there were 28 different versions of the spreadsheet over time, with no clarity about why projects changed from being successful to rejected.

Mr Gaetjens said 30 per cent of the applications listed as successful in the adviser’s spreadsheet were not approved for funding in the end.

Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese slammed the government for trying to defend the process after the scathing audit.

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“What we have here is a rorting of the scheme,” Mr Albanese said on Friday.

“And we have the Prime Minister, who has said on a number of occasions that every project was eligible.”

The government hit back at further testimony from the Auditor-General on Thursday night that showed 43 per cent of the projects ended up being ineligible.

Finance Minister Mathias Cormann said the original audit report made it clear that applications were eligible.

“When the assessments were made in relation to the various project applications, not a single project which received funding had been assessed as ineligible,” he said.

Deputy Prime Minister and Nationals leader Michael McCormack defended the program on Friday, saying “there wasn’t a cent wasted” and that rejected applicants should apply again.

The audit officials confirmed on Thursday night the successful applications were all eligible when first approved, as shown in their report.

However, the audit office added more detail to show many became ineligible because decisions made by the minister’s office dragged out the process and overturned the Sports Australia recommendations.

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