Prime Minister Scott Morrison this afternoon deflected criticism of embattled Sports Minister Bridget McKenzie, referencing his daughters to defend the Coalition’s oversight of a highly-criticised $100m grants scheme.
Discussing reports that McKenzie is expected to resign from Cabinet after her alleged mismanagement of the Community Sport Infrastructure program, Morrison said he will wait for the results of a new probe into her conduct before coming to a decision.
“It’s the right thing for me to do to seek advice on those matters, and I am awaiting that advice, and I await that report,” Morrison said.
McKenzie was accused by auditor-general Grant Hehir of “bias” in her approach to grant approvals, which favoured projects in “marginal” electorates or those “targeted” by the Coalition before the 2019 election.
The issue has become inescapable for the government, which hardly needed another hit after its handling of this summer’s bushfire crisis. But, like his initial explanation for traveling to Hawaii when the fires worsened, Morrison invoked his daughters to vouch for the program’s legitimacy.
“What I’m pleased about is that hundreds of sporting bodies all across the country who put forward eligible projects were able to get support for those projects, that they have a government who cares about the sporting infrastructure in communities,” Morrison said.
“I’ve got two daughters, I don’t want them changing in the car or out the back of the shed. I want them them to have access to sporting facilities in our community, like the boys do.”
Lilli Pilli Football Club, located in Morrison’s south Sydney electorate of Cook, received $200,000 as a result of the scheme. But the ABC reports the club announced a new half-million dollar infrastructure project in 2018, a month before the funds were publicly revealed.
The club’s president Greg Storey told the ABC “We want to be able to attract and retain girls to play soccer, so we applied for the grant” to upgrade the womens’ changing rooms.
Morrison’s office denied encouraging the club to apply for the funds, but Hehir’s report states “representations [for funding] were received across the three rounds both directly and indirectly, including through the Prime Minister’s Office.”
Just to make it crystal clear, there’s no suggestion Morrison’s daughters even attend Lilli Pilli Football Club, and there’s little doubt many, many sporting clubs nationwide could use that kind of upgrade.
That’s likely small comfort to the hundreds of eligible clubs who missed out on funds. Nor is it any comfort to McKenzie, who is facing the most scrutiny of any Nationals pollie since Barnaby Joyce.