PRIME Minister Scott Morrison is currently speaking at the National Press Club in Canberra, where he will face tough questions from reporters on the ongoing sport rorts scandal.
Mr Morrison is at the club to flag new powers for the federal government to take action in crises, such as the current bushfires.
“The incredible skill and bravery of our state fire services have saved so many lives over this summer, so many homes, and I am just so full of admiration for all of their efforts and their leadership,” Mr Morrison said.
“To date though, the role of the Commonwealth in responding to natural disasters has been limited to responding to requests for assistance from state governments.
“Where, when and how the resources and capabilities of the federal government should be engaged is less clear.”
He said the fire crisis had tested the limits of how the federal government interacts with the states.
In response, he proposed three possible steps for the government to examine – changes which would allow the declaration of a national state of emergency, to let the federal government take the initiative on its own; looking at the legal interface with the states and territories; and an enhanced “national accountability” for natural disaster risk management, resilience and preparedness.
Despite that announcement, questions about the government’s sport grants program, and the future of frontbencher Bridget McKenzie, are inevitable.
Ms McKenzie has been under pressure to resign in the wake of an Auditor-General report which concluded the $100 million program was used to pour taxpayer money into marginal seats targeted by the Coalition at last year’s election.
The audit found that in the third round of the program, 73 per cent of projects given funding were not recommended by Sport Australia.
On Monday, Sky News reported that staffers in Ms McKenzie’s office had raised concerns about the program in late 2018.
One former staffer said they raised “major” concerns about the administration of the program with Ms McKenzie’s then chief of staff.
They said the Minister was exposed by the methodology being used to hand out the grants and it could turn into a scandal.
According to the whistleblower, Ms McKenzie’s chief of staff replied: “We have to do what the Minister wants.”
“This is how the Minister wants to do it, and we have to abide by that,” the staffer was told.
Yesterday, the ABC reported Sport Australia had written to Ms McKenzie a month before the election was called last year to complain about political interference in the program, saying its independence was being compromised.
It has also emerged that some of the highest-rated grant applications, according to Sport Australia’s process, were snubbed in favour of low-rated projects in key electorates.
Ms McKenzie has tried to fend off the criticism, saying all grants approved under the program were within the rules.
There are also questions about the role Mr Morrison’s staff played in the program.
Story: The Observer