Wednesday, 13 May 2020
Questions without Notice
Community Sport Infrastructure Grant Program
My question is to the Minister representing the Prime Minister, Senator Cormann. The Australian National Audit Office has revealed that Prime Minister Morrison's office forced former Minister McKenzie to seek his authority on the approved projects done to the Community Sport Infrastructure Grant Program and to inform the Prime Minister of the rollout planned. What authority was the Prime Minister exercising?
An honourable senator interjecting—
The point of order is direct relevance. Senator McKenzie just interjected and said it was 'authority to announce'. If that is the government's position, could the Prime Minister's representative indicate that?
With respect, leaders get some latitude. The point is, the minister has been speaking for 12 seconds. I'm not in a position to rule on direct relevance at this point, and that wasn't technically a point of order, Senator Wong. Senator Cormann.
That point of order, quite inappropriately, creates the impression that I haven't previously addressed this. I would refer Senator Wong to the Hansard. I've consistently made the point that the decision-maker in relation to the project was the then Minister for Sport, Senator McKenzie, but that it is—
Senator Wong interjecting—
As I've said on a number of occasions in the past, in relation to announcement arrangements, of course Senator McKenzie liaised with the Prime Minister's Office as appropriate and approval was sought for announcement arrangements. That is something that has been made clear consistently. That is something that I've made clear, in this chamber, as the Prime Minister's representative before. Leaving the rhetorical flourish to one side, nothing that Senator Farrell has just said is in any way inconsistent with what I've previously said to the Senate and, indeed, with what the Prime Minister has previously said publicly. In fact, I refer you to what the Prime Minister said, on ABC television, on 28 February 2020. He said:
What she sought from me was approval to make announcements. So, I mean, she'd made the decisions. She'd authorised the decisions on the 4th of April. And it's commonplace for ministers before they make announcements about projects that they seek approval from the Prime Minister.
That is precisely what happened. That is the consistent answer that we've given to these questions. Senator Wong, inappropriately, trying to create the impression that somehow this is a new revelation, I completely reject.
The ANAO further confirmed: 'February advice from the Prime Minister's Office to the minister's office was that the Prime Minister had not had a chance to look at the list.' Why did the former minister's office have to wait for the Prime Minister to look at the list?
Thank you very much. It's very simple: it goes to announcement arrangements. The decisions were made by the minister who was responsible and who, incidentally—this is a very popular and very successful program and, as a result of Senator McKenzie exercising, appropriately, her ministerial discretion, she increased the proportion of funding going to Labor-held electorates.
That is a very important point. In this constant smear that Labor is seeking to perpetuate here against a hardworking, distinguished, outstanding member of our team, this persistent smear that you are trying to spread here, you always hide the fact that the minister's discretion actually increased the proportion of funding going into Labor-held electorates, contrary to the decisions that were made at the Public Service level. Minister McKenzie ensured there was a fairer, more appropriate distribution of those funds in what is an outstanding and very successful project. No amount of smear and innuendo from the Labor Party will get anyone away from that.
I don't believe that the Prime Minister had any involvement with spreadsheets of the nature you describe. The Prime Minister, as he has made clear, as Senator McKenzie has made clear, and as I have made clear on a number of occasions now, appropriately was involved in decision-making around announcement arrangements. The projects had been approved by the responsible minister at the time, appropriately and consistent with the ministerial guidelines issued at the time. Announcement arrangements are the same in our government as they would have been in your government. This confected outrage is starting to wear a bit thin, particularly given people are focused on some significantly more important issues right now.