What's The 'Sports Rorts' Scandal And Why Does It Matter?

We love a scandal with a rhyming name, don't we?

You've no doubt heard about the so-called 'sports rorts' scandal, and claims the Coalition government inappropriately allocated funds to marginal electorates ahead of the last federal election.

But the saga is growing by the day, amid heightening pressure on Nationals deputy leader Bridget McKenzie for her role in the scheme, with many saying it's time for her to go over the escalating situation.

McKenzie has been accused of "pork barrelling". Image: AAP

Here's what you need to know about the 'sports rorts' scandal.

What's this all about?

The scandal centres on the -- until recently -- little-known Community Sports Infrastructure Grant program. It was a $100 million scheme aiming to provide funding to local sporting clubs and associations, meant to be for upgrades like new dressing rooms, playing field upgrades or playing equipment.

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However, the program came under scrutiny during last year's federal election after perennial Liberal candidate Georgina Downer -- daughter of former party leader Alexander -- was photographed handing over a large novelty cheque with her name and face on it, to a bowling club in the South Australian electorate she was trying to win.

As a candidate, rather than the elected local member Rebekha Sharkie, the Labor Party complained it was inappropriate that Downer was involved.

The photo of Downer and the large novelty cheque, presented while she was campaigning for the seat of Mayo. Image: Facebook

The federal auditor-general launched a review of the sports grants program, and handed down its report last week ... and it was damning.

The report found there was "evidence of distribution bias in the award of grant funding", and that most of the $100 million program was focused on marginal seats that the Coalition was trying to win at the election.

The report ruled that 70 percent of the second round and 73 percent of the third round of projects approved by Senator Bridget McKenzie -- then the federal sports minister, now agriculture minister -- were not recommended by Sport Australia.

Why is that bad?

McKenzie, Labor has argued, should not have approved applications that were not recommended by Sports Australia.

Tony Harris, the former NSW state auditor-general, told the ABC this week that "there is nothing in the law that allows her to be the decision-maker."

The government has argued that all organisations which received funding were eligible to receive that funding, but critics have claimed McKenzie overstepped her powers.

Constitutional expert Professor Anne Twomey said the affair was "astonishing" and questioned if McKenzie or the government had breached the law.

"The Minister herself does not have the power to make these decisions in relation to these grants," she told the ABC.

Labor has accused McKenzie and the government of "outrageous" behaviour and "pork-barrelling on an industrial scale", claiming they used the money as an election sweetener in marginal seats. Of the 10 electorates that were awarded the most funding, nine were ones the Coalition wanted to win, or were considered marginal.

Former sports minister McKenzie is in hot water. Image: Facebook

However the minister rejected those claims, claiming her decisions delivered more money to Labor electorates.

“In fact, my intervention actually increased the amount of projects being delivered to local sporting clubs in Labor party electorates,” she said.

What happened this week?

Reporting by The Guardian and the Sydney Morning Herald found several projects approved for funding had direct links to Coalition members -- including a clay shooting club McKenzie herself was a member of, which received $36,000.

A photo of McKenzie at the Wangaratta Clay Target Club. Image: Wangaratta Clay Target Club.

The Guardian reported other successful applications came from a tennis club of which treasurer Josh Frydenberg is a member, an Aussie Rules football club linked to indigenous affairs minister Ken Wyatt, and a netball and football club linked to senator Sarah Henderson.



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Federal attorney-general Christian Porter -- whose own electorate was awarded $926,000 under the program -- has been asked by the Prime Minister Scott Morrison to "review" the recommendations of the auditor-general report.

Morrison claimed the government took the report "very seriously" but backed the program and McKenzie, rebuffing suggestions she should resign.

Labor says Morrison should sack McKenzie over the 'sports rorts' affair. Image: AAP

Porter told SBS he would be looking into "the legal basis for ministerial involvement in the relevant process" as raised in the report.

What has the reaction been?

Labor wants McKenzie sacked as a minister. Opposition leader Anthony Albanese, commenting on the shooting club funding revealed by the SMH, reckoned it was a "rort".

Frydenberg and other senior government ministers are holding firm, with the treasurer repeating that "all the projects were eligible under this program" in claiming no rules were broken.

McKenzie's Nationals party mate, David Littleproud, also moved to defend her.

"Before we jump to conclusions, we need to be fair. We live in a fair country. We need to work through this in a calm, methodical way and get the facts out," he said this week.

What happens next?

McKenzie remains under intense pressure from critics, while Porter's review is yet to commence.

The PM said he is standing by the minister.