“This week through the Senate estimates process I became aware of changes made to a ministerial decision brief that I signed in Canberra on 4 April 2019, for the third round of the Community Sporting Infrastructure Grants program,” she wrote.
“This included nine new and emerging projects which, it must be emphasised, had been identified and sent to Sport Australia in March for assessment in line with program guidelines.
“I did not make any changes or annotations to this brief or its attachments after 4 April 2019. My expectation was that the brief would be processed in a timely and appropriate manner.
“Nevertheless, changes were made and administrative errors occurred in processing the brief.”
Senator McKenzie did not go into further detail about the errors made or the source of the changes, and she declined to comment for this story when contacted by The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age on Thursday night.
The former minister resigned from cabinet and her position as deputy leader of the Nationals in February after acknowledging she had been a member of a gun club that received taxpayer funds from her sports funding program.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has faced Labor accusations in Parliament that his office made the key changes to the third round of the program on April 10.
The late changes were contained in a colour-coded spreadsheet that was attached to emails separate to the ministerial brief Senator McKenzie had signed.
Sport Australia official Luke McCann told the Senate estimates hearing on Wednesday that the last email was sent from Senator McKenzie’s office to Sport Australia at 12.43pm on April 11, about four hours after Parliament had been dissolved and the government had gone into caretaker mode.
The spreadsheet changes on April 11 included the addition of nine projects worth $3.3 million, raising questions about whether they were formally approved by the minister given she had not updated the brief she had signed on April 4.
The late changes included the removal of a project on the grounds it had been funded already under a different federal scheme.
In her new statement, Senator McKenzie takes responsibility for the decisions because she was the minister, but she does not clarify who oversaw the changes to the spreadsheet and therefore added the nine projects.
“I have always taken responsibility for my actions and decisions as a minister, and this includes actions by my office,” she wrote.
“I was the Minister for Sport and therefore ultimately and entirely responsible for funding decisions that were signed off under my name, including and regrettably, any changes that were made unbeknown to me.
“It is a privilege to serve the Australian people. The public must have confidence in the processes underpinning the expenditure of their hard-earned money.
“I make no apology for applying ministerial discretion to ensure fairness across funded projects.”
David Crowe is chief political correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.