The real scandal in the grants administered by Nationals Senator Bridget McKenzie is that unelected bureaucrats at the Australian National Audit Office engaged in political hit job against a conservative politician at the request of Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus.
The ANAO undertook its Award of Funding under the Community Sport Infrastructure Program audit at the request of Mr Dreyfus.
The shadow attorney-general requested an audit into the circumstances surrounding then-Liberal candidate for Mayo’s funding of a local bowls club in the lead up to the 2018 by-election.
It is curious that no one in the media has questioned why in a liberal parliamentary democracy like Australia a member of the opposition can direct unelected bureaucrats to investigate a minister of the Crown.
Going beyond its original remit of investing the provision of a $127,273 cheque to the Yankalilla bowls club, the ANAO engaged in a far-reaching audit of all grants administered under the Community Sport Infrastructure Grant Program. Grants under the program could be provided under the discretion of then-minister for sport, Ms McKenzie.
Ms McKenzie’s apparent failure was that several projects which received grants did not meet the criteria established by Sport Australia, which is an unelected statutory agency.
But this is an egregious misunderstanding of how democracy works. Bureaucrats advise. Ministers decide. If public servants want to decide how taxpayer funds are allocated, they should run for parliament.
Mainstream Australians would much prefer an elected member of parliament to decide how their money is spent, not faceless, unelected members of the Canberra swamp.
A recent poll by Dynata, commissioned by the Institute of Public Affairs, found that 64 per cent of Australians believe unelected bureaucrats have too much control over our lives.
In reporting on the issue on Tuesday, the ABC thought they had found two fatal smoking guns.
The first was the apparent revelation that the minister’s office was running a parallel process to Sport Australia for where the grants should be allocated, as evidenced by a spreadsheet leaked to and reported by the ABC.
Far from a smoking gun, this spreadsheet appears to exonerate Ms McKenzie of any wrongdoing.
The spreadsheet shows that the majority of the 223 projects marked as “successful” in the first round of grants went to Labor-held seats. As McKenzie said, this is “reverse pork-barreling”.
Some 94 projects were in Labor-held seats, with 87 in Liberal, 35 National, and seven in seats held by independents.
The second would-be smoking gun is the $500,000 grant provided to the Pakenham Football Club, which received a rating of 50 out of 100 by Sports Australia but received the highest possible grant. The Pakenham Football Club is in the marginal Liberal seat of La Trobe.
According to Sport Australia, that $500,000 would have been better provided to the Gippsland Lakes Roller Derby in the safe Nationals seat of Gippsland, which received a rating of 98 out of 100. Only an unelected and out-of-touch public servant could think it is a better idea to fund the roller derby than the footy in Victoria.
Besides, the ratings out of 100 are mere inventions of the bureaucracy designed to give the process fake scientific credentials.
More to the point, the funding to the Pakenham footy club was to build change rooms for female footballers and netballers, something the woke ABC would usually celebrate. Instead, the ABC would rather play political football for the Labor Party even if it means female footy players lose out on much-needed facilities.
To be sure, the potential misuse of taxpayer funds is a big policy issue and must be investigated.
In October last year, this government gifted $1 billion of taxpayer funds to the Clean Energy Finance Corporation to underwrite more intermittent, expensive, and unreliable renewable energy. No one lost their job.
In 2018, this government gave $444 million to the Great Barrier Reef Foundation which at the time had an annual revenue of around $10 million. No one lost their job.
For a decade both Coalition and Labor governments gave more than $88 million to the scandal-plagued Clinton Foundation.
Yet Ms McKenzie could lose her role as deputy leader of the Nationals for faithfully discharging her duties as a minister and an elected member of parliament.
Ms McKenzie has been engulfed by a scandal. Just not the one spun in the media.
A member of the Opposition directed the ANAO to investigate a political opponent, the ANAO then went beyond the remit of this original request, and the taxpayer-funded ABC conspired with a leaker to obtain and report on confidential information with the potential effect of ending the political career of an elected member of parliament.