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So the government gave sports grants to marginal seats. What happens now?

Maria O'Sullivan writes in The Conversation (17.1.20) about the 'sports rorts' scandal rocking the federal government, with calls for Nationals deputy leader and former Sports Minister, Bridget McKenzie, to resign over her intervention in sports grant allocations.

'When Australians pay their income tax, they assume the money is going to areas of the community that need it, rather than being used by the government to shore up votes for the next election.

'This is why the findings of the Australian National Audit Office into the awarding of community sporting grants by cabinet minister Bridget McKenzie are serious. Not merely for the grant funding process, but also for trust in our system of government.

'The Community Sport Infrastructure Grant Program was established in 2018 to ensure more Australians have access to quality sporting facilities, encouraging greater community participation in sport and physical activity.

'The Audit Office was asked to examine this grant program to assess whether the award of funding “was informed by an appropriate assessment process and sound advice”. The focus was therefore on whether proper procedures were followed.

'The report was extremely critical of the way in which the A$100 million in sporting grants were awarded by Minister McKenzie ahead of last year’s election campaign.'

Why we need strong ethical standards for ministers - and better ways of enforcing them

Howard Whitton writes in The Conversation (24.1.20) about how governments have grappled for years to devise ethical standards for ministers and other public officials. But codes are only part of the answer, with the author reminding that MPs must also take responsibility for their own conduct.

'Prime Minister Scott Morrison has asked the head of his department to investigate whether Bridget McKenzie violated ministerial standards when she dispensed sports grants to clubs in marginal seats and those being targeted by the Coalition in last year’s election.

'It is generally accepted by Australians that “public office is a public trust”. The nature and extent of that trust, however, is continuously being debated.

'This is especially true in an age of virtually unlimited potential for scrutiny of governments, and unlimited scope for the court of public opinion to take submissions (and make judgements) about ministerial conduct – well-founded or otherwise.

'The late (and much lamented) John Clarke once told me his main role as satirist-in-residence to the nation was to remind the Australian people how fragile their democratic institutions are.

'Almost a decade later, we are told on good authority that a significant proportion of young Australians do not trust “government”, to the point where many might well prefer military rule.

'This is one reason why codified and enforceable standards of ministerial ethics and conduct will remain relevant – and expected – in our country.'

Scott Morrison wants the sports rorts mess to be over with McKenzie's exit. It won't be

Katharine Murphy writes in The Guardian (2.2.20) that Scott Morrison’s 'lack of transparency' in dealing with the troubled sports grants program deepens concerns about government accountability.

'Standards, Scott Morrison told us on the Sunday afternoon before the opening of federal parliament for 2020, are about accountability.

'Except, self-evidently, when standards are not about accountability; when standards are actually about shifting the goalposts so you can get through the latest debacle.

'Like when a prime minister, in this case – exactly the same prime minister dropping the piety about standards being about accountability – declines point blank to be accountable, declines to release new advice completely at odds with the auditor general’s assessment of the stinky debacle that is the sports grants program.

'… In what universe does that address the underlying issues? In what universe does that response satisfy voters that governance in this country is OK, and proceeding in an orderly and competent fashion, in the interests of people, whether they live in a marginal seat, or whether they don’t?'

 

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