Drum backs Bridget McKenzie over sports grants controversy

By James Bennett

Federal Member for Nicholls Damian Drum has backed Bridget McKenzie and wants her to stay on despite the Victorian Senator overseeing the distribution of sports grants to marginal electorates held by the Coalition.

Mr Drum said Senator McKenzie was the victim of a "witch hunt" perpetrated by the Labor Party.

A report published by Australian National Audit Office said "there was evidence of distribution bias" when grant funding was awarded late in 2018.

“The award of funding reflected the approach documented by the minister’s office of focusing on ‘marginal’ electorates held by the Coalition as well as those electorates held by other parties or independent members that were to be ‘targeted’ by the Coalition at the 2019 election,” the report said.

“Applications from projects located in those electorates were more successful in being awarded funding than if funding was allocated on the basis of merit assessed against the published program guidelines.”

Senator McKenzie was Sports Minister at the time; she is now Agriculture Minister.

Mr Drum threw the debate back to the Victorian Government, arguing its tactics to fund projects in safe Labor seats was just as evident.

He said an example was the government putting more money in Bendigo, Ballarat and Geelong rather than Shepparton, Wodonga and La Trobe Valley.

Mr Drum said the grants were also independently distributed by bureaucrats and not personally by Senator McKenzie.

Federal Labor, Greens and Pauline Hanson are calling for a senate inquiry.

Senator McKenzie said she would not apologise for her handling of the Sports Grants Program.

“The ANAO report verified that no project that received funding was not eligible to receive it,” she said.

“It also confirms that no rules were broken in this program.

“The reality is . . . there are hundreds of applications still sitting there who were also deserving of funding — community clubs right across the country who, you know, also need that critical infrastructure to increase participation.”

Sports clubs within the then-Murray electorate received funding to the tune of $180 000.

It was distributed to Euroa Golf Club, Yarrawonga Lawn Tennis Club and Goulburn Valley Hockey Association.

The request for the report came from Shadow Attorney General Mark Dreyfus, after a Liberal candidate presented a cheque in the seat of Mayo — held by the Central Alliance and a key 2019 federal election marginal target for the Coalition.