When Australians pay their income tax, they assume that the money goes to areas of the community that need it, rather than being used by the government for the next election to shore upvotes.
That is why the Australian National Audit Office’s findings regarding the awarding of community sporting grants by Cabinet Minister Bridget McKenzie are serious. Not just for the grant funding process, but also for the trust of our government system.
What was it that found the report?
In 2018, the Community Sports Infrastructure Grant Program was established to ensure that more Australians have access to quality sporting facilities, promoting greater community involvement in sport and physical activities.
The Audit Office was asked to review this grant program to determine whether the grant “was advised by an adequate evaluation process and sound advice” Therefore, the emphasis was on whether proper procedures had been followed.
The report was highly critical of the way Minister McKenzie awarded the A$ 100 million in sporting grants ahead of the election campaign last year.
Researchers found that successful proposals were “not the ones that were regarded as the most meritorious” and that there was “distributional bias” in approving projects. The problem is a lot of the grants that the Coalition wanted to win were awarded to organisations inside marginal seats or counties.
This is a serious matter because it represents a politicisation of a program of grants that should be performed on merit.
What does this mean for the administration?
It is important that the Audit Office has made that finding. But what is happening now and what are the consequences? Will there be an enquiry? If it does, by whom?
The Audit Office is an independent body, of great importance. It has a crucial role to play in ensuring that government funds are spent for legitimate purposes, in the absence of a federal integrity commission. A central part of the Audit Office’s role is to uncover and report on government decisions regarding fraud and corruption. But it lacks coercive powers, and its report has no direct legal impact on Senator McKenzie.
If there is to be further investigation of this matter, a parliamentary forum such as Senate Estimates will likely take it on board. What’s more significant are the Audit report’s consequences.