Nationals senator Bridget McKenzie denies snubbing 'sports rorts' committee

Nationals senator Bridget McKenzie has agreed to appear at Senate committee to answer questions over the administration of community sports grants after the Senate issued an order. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong
Nationals senator Bridget McKenzie has agreed to appear at Senate committee to answer questions over the administration of community sports grants after the Senate issued an order. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong

Senator Bridget McKenzie has agreed to face a Senate committee next month over her involvement in the sports rorts saga after being ordered by senators to appear at an inquiry into the community grants program.

The former government frontbencher, who faces questions over the administration of the grants when she was sports minister, has agreed to appear before the inquiry on February 12 for the first time since the committee was established in early 2020.

The Nationals senator wrote in a letter dated Friday she would appear before the Senate order's deadline but asked for more information regarding the committee's intentions.

Senator McKenzie added she wanted the information to ensure the request wasn't just a "cheap political stunt".

"I am yet to receive a detailed statement of matters to be dealt with during my appearance that I haven't already addressed in my submission nor a 'transcript of relevant evidence already taken' by the committee that would justify my need to attend for any other reason than a cheap political stunt," Senator McKenzie wrote in the letter.

She also slammed suggestions she had declined prior requests to appear before the inquiry and called the Senate's order for her appearance "unprecedented".

"With regard to my attendance to an inquiry hearing, at no time have I 'declined to' appear before the committee," Senator McKenzie wrote.

"Nonetheless the committee has sought to take the unprecedented action through the Senate order of 9 December, to direct a fellow senator to appear."

The senator was first invited to appear in a May email with a hearing tentatively scheduled for mid-June.

Responses from Senator McKenzie in June show the former minister directing the committee to her written submission on the matter and calling the request "highly unusual."

In correspondence with committee chair and Labor senator Anthony Chisholm, Senator McKenzie said she was unavailable for proposed hearing dates and requested more information. The Senate committee in December 2020 ordered her attendance at a hearing.

READ MORE:

A report by the Auditor-General's office in January 2020 found the then-sports minister overlooked applications for sports grants found worthy by government agency Sport Australia while her office ran its own assessment process favouring marginal electorates.

The Auditor-General's office found at least 43 per cent of the grants were ineligible by the time they were funded.

Labor and a number of crossbenchers criticised the Morrison government for approving the sports grants in marginal seats ahead of the 2019 federal election and called for Senator McKenzie's resignation.

The senator eventually resigned from the front bench in February after it surfaced she had not disclosed a membership she had with a gun club that received nearly $36,000 from the fund.