Former sports minister Bridget McKenzie has made a new and potentially damaging claim in the sports grants affair, saying changes to a sports grants brief were made without her knowledge.
Senator McKenzie said the last she had anything to do with the funding was on April 4, a week before the grants were finalised on April 11.
"I did not make any changes or annotations to this brief or its attachments after 4 April 2019," Senator McKenzie said. "My expectation was that the brief would be processed in a timely and appropriate manner. Nevertheless, changes were made and administrative errors occurred in processing the brief."
Senator McKenzie released the statement on her website and has made no other comment.
Her claim turns attention to the role played by Prime Minister Scott Morrison in the week after April 4, when the projects listed as funded on Senator McKenzie's signed brief were changed.
Mr Morrison refused to answer questions on the topic at a press conference on Friday, but with Senator McKenzie expected to give evidence at a Senate inquiry into the affair, the stage is set for further controversy.
He has insisted that all decisions were made by Senator McKenzie and his role was limited to "providing information based on the representations made to us".
Senator McKenzie did not elaborate on what she meant by "administrative errors". But the Audit Office has told parliamentary hearings that her office was communication with Mr Morrison's office in the final week, including when the government was officially in caretaker mode on the morning of April 11, "sorting out what the final list of approved projects would look like".
Labor senator Don Farrell said the question now became, "who did approve that list?"
"The final list was then changed ... as a result of communications between her office and the Prime Minister's office. It's now time for the Prime Minister to come clean. Tell us honestly, tell the Australian people honestly, what was his real role in awarding these grants and tell the Australian people who made the ultimate decision to grant what we now know to be an industrial scale pork barrel?"
- Sport Australia warned about approving projects after election called
- 'Straight from the horse's mouth': Mathias Cormann stands by Bridget McKenzie's claim on sports grants
- Nine sports grants added to spreadsheet hours after election called
- Sport Australia surprised to see colour-coded spreadsheet
- Notebooks covering public service career destroyed, sparking records debate
Audit officials have indicated some of the changes were at the request of the Prime Minister's office.
One project was removed and another added on the morning of April 11. After the election was called on April 11, an email with the final version of projects was emailed from the minister's office to the Prime Minister's office at 12.35pm, and to Sport Australia at 12.43pm. Nine projects were added to that list and one removed. The two emails sent to Sport Australia included the April 4 signed brief.
Despite saying she was unaware of changes made after April 4, Senator McKenzie said as minister she was responsible for the actions of her office.
Senator McKenzie stepped down as agriculture minister after a report by the secretary of Prime Minister and Cabinet Phil Gaetjens found she had breached ministerial standards by failing to declare her connection to a shooting club that won a grant.
Also on Friday, the Health Department said neither former secretary Gladys Beauchamp or Sport Australia chairman John Wylie could recall the impromptu late-night meeting that Sport Australia chief executive Kate Palmer said was called between the trio in April last year when they discovered that Senator McKenzie's office had drawn up a spreadsheet colour-coded by political party to award the grants.