A program meant to enable more Australians to participate in sports and have high-quality facilities was recently the subject of a scandal, thanks to a Senator and then Minister for Sport. In the lead-up to the 2019 Australian federal election, Senator Bridget McKenzie was implicated in authorizing grants that were neither informed by an appropriate assessment process nor sound advice; additionally, the applications were later discovered to not have been the most meritorious. The sporting clubs who received these grants were also conveniently placed in positions that favor marginal and targeted electorates. McKenzie also used tax-payer funds, which were meant for disabled athletes, for other purposes. It is no surprise that the government was accused of trying to buy the election; the PM was quick to vindicate himself. But the people are left with a multitude of queries and not enough responses. For example, how were these grants approved in the first place? Was the correct procedure respected or disregarded?
It would be a new concept to hold politicians directly and personally liable for such misconduct. However, a law professor at the University of Adelaide states that it may be warranted in this case. Professor Lindell stated that Ms. McKenzie not only failed to seek advice about whether she had the power to distribute $100 million in grants, but she could also be personally liable for it.
Professor Lindell is skeptical of Ms. McKenzie’s authority to approve those grants in the first place, and many experts, as well as the Australian National Audit Office, agree. At the center of the scandal is finding out who actually made the decisions. While this is still unknown, politicians are making it even harder to find out the truth. Even though the PM implies that that his office has little involvement, the ANAO has unraveled some evidence, such as emails among key players, that tends to point otherwise.
The Indicated Solution
Legal offices everywhere have explicitly stated that they will bring claims regarding the scandal. If the claims are successful, then the decisions of the minister would not legally matter. Sport Australia would be in charge of deciding the grants, free of taint. Professor Lindell has also commented that the commonwealth may be able to recover the money that McKenzie gave out, but it must first be shown that she acted wrongly or deliberately and seriously disregarded reasonable standards of care. He is also curious about criminal liability for failing to comply with the statutes – but this issue must be separately dealt with. In general, however, Ms. McKenzie is subject to censure by parliament because she, either negligently or purposefully, failed to check if she had a lawful command to hand out those grants before taking action.