Bridget McKenzie's office sent Sport Australia a list of grants to distribute 16 minutes after the Australian parliament went into caretaker mode, a parliamentary inquiry has heard.
The Governor-General dissolved the House of Representatives at 8.30am on April 11 ahead of the 2019 election, marking the start of the caretaker period.
But - in a potential breach of caretaker convention - Australia Sport Commission chief operating officer Luke McCann told a Senate committee Sport Australia received a signed approval brief from Senator McKenzie's office with a spreadsheet of projects to fund under the Community Sport Infrastructure Grant program at 8.46am on April 11.
The brief was dated April 4. However Senator McKenzie had sent the list of projects she "intended" to approve to Prime Minister Scott Morrison's office a day earlier, an earlier question on notice to the committee showed.
Mr McCann said he was unaware the caretaker period had commenced when he received the email.
While the ordinary business of government continues during caretaker period, there is a convention that the incumbent government avoids entering into major contracts or undertakings.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison rejected claims from the Opposition that caretaker convention had been breached during question time, saying the brief was clearly approved by the minister on April 4.
Over in the Senate, Finance Minister Mathias Cormann said decisions taken before caretaker period could be undertaken during caretaker period without an issue.
It also emerged the minister's office was warned as early as December 2018 there were risks in departing from Sport Australia's merit-based recommendations in allocating sports grants.
But ultimately, the minister had the power to have the final say and the grants program worked exactly as it was designed to, Australian Sport Commission chair John Wylie said.
He dismissed the notion that Sport Australia had been sidelined throughout successive rounds of the program.
This is despite findings from the Australian National Audit Office that merit-based applications recommended by the body were increasingly ignored by the former sport minister's office in favour of those from marginal or key electorates.
Mr Wylie said his team ran an "extensive, independent and merit-based" assessment of the 2000 applications received under the program under tight deadlines, and provided advice to the minister's office as per their charge. However he confirmed electorate was not a factor in Sport Australia's own assessment process.
He said they exercised "due stewardship" of the program, by advising the minister of risks of departing from the merit list provided by Sport Australia and endorsed by the Sport Australia board.
Former Sport Australia executive Robin O'Neill first wrote an email detailing concerns about the way the program was being run on December 5.
This is three months earlier than an email obtained by the ABC between Mr O'Neill and the minister's office on March 6.
The risks were discussed at two separate meetings of Sport Australia's finance and risk committee three months apart.
But My Wylie said they considered the risks managed, because they had been communicated to the minister's office.
"It was ultimately the minister's prerogative to make decisions as she saw fit," Mr Wylie said.
Mr Wylie also said Sport Australia received advice from a Queens Council to "unequivocally" confirm that it had the legal authority to make decisions about grants, after the auditor-general raised it as a point of contention in its draft report.
In a bizarre twist, Mr O'Neill was separately criticised in the audit for failing to manage a conflict of interest he had with Tennis Australia. Mr O'Neill was previously Tennis Australia's manager of government relations and strategic projects.
The inquiry heard Tennis Australia was given a look at draft guidelines although it was not made clear who within Sport Australia shared the document.
Mr Wylie said he was deeply unhappy that Tennis Australia was given a draft version of the guidelines. Ultimately 47 per cent of applications from tennis clubs were successful in gaining grants.
The inquiry continues on Friday.
An earlier version of this report incorrectly said the Sport Australia advice related to the minister's ability to approve grants.