Ms Palmer revealed she called a teleconference with Sport Australia chairman John Wylie and Ms Beauchamp, a member of the agency’s board, within hours of being shown the spreadsheet by a staff member last year.
“I can’t recall what it looked like, I was just surprised when I saw it,” Ms Palmer said. Asked what about the spreadsheet, which had been sent to Sport Australia by Senator McKenzie’s office, was surprising Ms Palmer said the fact that it was colour-coded.
Ms Palmer said the phone call was “not a crisis meeting” and they resolved to refer the matter to the Sport Australia board’s audit and risk committee.
Sport Australia made the colour-coded spreadsheet available to the Auditor-General, who had already begun examining the community sport funding program and later released a scathing report.
Ms Beauchamp described the phone hook-up with Ms Palmer and Mr Wylie as an “ad hoc meeting”, but said she had destroyed all her records of it because she was about to leave her position as department head.
She agreed she would have taken notes but asked where they were, replied: “It’s interesting you should say that because it’s my last day in the public service and I have destroyed all of my notebooks and notes.”
Senators were incredulous at the news that Ms Beauchamp had destroyed the documents at the end of January, after the Auditor-General released a highly critical review of the $100 million outlay on community sport projects, many of them announced during the election campaign.
Ms Beauchamp said it was her practice to make “scratchings … of things that I might have to follow up on” and translate anything that needed to be put on the official record into email or discussions with colleagues.
“I should not have notebooks and things as a private citizen after midnight tonight,” she said.
Labor finance spokeswoman Katy Gallagher said she was preparing a letter to the Australian Public Service Commissioner, Peter Woolcott, to look into the matter and provide any guidance about how the records should have been handled.
“Ms Beauchamp has had a very honourable career as a public servant. She’s been a leader in this public service for a long time,” Senator Gallagher said, but she accused the government of refusing to release more details and documents.
“There’s a very significant reluctance to provide any information to the committee,” she said.
“We have sought documents from Sport Australia. We’ve asked for documents from health today. They are taking it on notice. Sport Australia took it on notice. The government has refused to provide documents to the Senate.
“Everyone knows this scheme was dodgy. Everyone knows the minister and the Prime Minister had their hands all over it from the beginning.”
On May 15, 2019, three days before the federal election, Ms Palmer issued two corrections to her previous evidence to Parliament about the grants.
In response to a question asking whether the minister had only approved recommended grants, Ms Palmer had said: “The minister only approved recommended grants, yes.”
That was corrected to read: “Some projects from the pool of eligible applications that were preferred by the minister were approved by her.”
With Fleta Page and AAP
David Crowe is chief political correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.
Nick is a journalist for The Sydney Morning Herald.