Bridget McKenzie selected projects but did not approve the final grants under the $ 100 million sports program, Sport Australia argued, saying her own guidelines suggested otherwise were flawed and based on a ” model âfrom the finance department.
Sport Australia insists it has retained the final say on approved funding requests despite a wave of late changes to grant recipients requested by the former Federal Sports Minister or his office.
Sport Australia is defending a lawsuit in federal court at the Beechworth Lawn Tennis Club seeking to overturn the agency’s refusal to grant the club a $ 500,000 grant. The case challenges the validity of the grants awarded under the community sports infrastructure program.
In its defense, filed Friday, Sport Australia blamed language copied from a finance department template for program guidelines stating that the minister would “give final approval” and that the minister’s decision was “final in all. fields”.
Sport Australia rejected Beechworth’s claim that it was providing funding “in accordance with the approval of applications by the Minister for Sport”.
On the contrary, the agency claimed that after identifying the projects, it requested additional information from applicants and retained its “full discretion” to withdraw the grant or change its conditions.
“There have been occasions where Sport Australia has determined that, for an application that had been approved by the minister, it would not make a grant or change the scope of a grant,” the agency said in its defense.
“That is, Sport Australia has not entered into grant agreements for all projects approved by the Minister or for all grant amounts approved by the Minister.”
In January 2020, a scathing report from the Auditor General found that McKenzie, the former sports minister, had skewed the program towards targeted and marginalized seats.
After McKenzie’s office conducted a parallel assessment process, Sport Australia awarded funding to more than 400 projects that would not have received grants had its initial recommendations been followed.
The Beechworth case argues that Sport Australia improperly took government guidance on which projects to award grants.
The lawsuit also asks the court to overturn the decision to award a grant of $ 35,980 to the Wangaratta Clay Target Club. McKenzie did not declare she was a member of the club, in violation of ministerial standards, which prompted her resignation.
In its defense, Sport Australia revealed that the Beechworth Project application had not been recommended by its assessment team in November 2018 or approved by the board because – although eligible for funding – it “did not” not obtained a sufficiently high score in relation to the selection criteria â.
But elsewhere in defense, Sport Australia admitted the project was included in funding recommendations to the minister’s office on April 3, 2019.
Beechworth’s attorney, Josh Bornstein, told Guardian Australia that “whatever the devious process” within Sport Australia, “the point is that it was deemed deserving of a grant and was subsequently subject to funding. ‘a veto by the minister “.
Beechworth alleged that on April 11, 2019, McKenzie’s office returned a signed brief that excluded the Beechworth Project, one of the 184 that Sport Australia recommended and which was not subsequently approved.
Sport Australia admitted the new list included 167 applications it had not recommended the minister approve.
Sport Australia argued that on April 26, 2019, it had decided not to grant a subsidy to the Beechworth project but that “this decision had not been the subject of any delegation or dictation by the Minister”.
Sport Australia said Beechworth failed to prove that he knew McKenzie was a member of the Wangaratta club when he decided to award the grant on March 13, 2019.
Sport Australia asked the court to deny Beechworth any relief, warning that it could have “no useful results” as funding for the program had run out and there was none left for the tennis club.
The money was no longer needed as the Victorian government later funded the project, which was due to be completed by Jan.31, 2022, the federal agency said.
“The granting of financing for the project subject to the [Wangaratta Clay Target Club] request was spent and the project was completed in 2019.
McKenzie resigned due to her undisclosed membership in the Wangaratta club, but she denied any wrongdoing in administering the larger program.
McKenzie said the government had decided to run the program through Sport Australia and the civil service had not informed her of any potential legal issues.
The case is due to return to court on June 8.