Prime Minister Scott Morrison's office asked for a copy of the infamous sports grants spreadsheet to coordinate announcements with the Coalition's election campaign headquarters on the day the 2019 election was called, the Australian National Audit Office has revealed.
In the latest installment of the long-running sports grants administration saga, the audit office has provided fresh evidence of the extent to which the Prime Minister's office was involved in determining where sporting grants went to a parliamentary committee.
Senator McKenzie's office sent Mr Morrison's office a letter on April 10 - the day before the 2019 election was called - with print-outs of two worksheets. One was the list of 220 projects the minister intended to approve for funding and the other summarised the list by state, political party and electorate.
At 12.45pm, the Prime Minister's office emailed Senator McKenzie's office to ask that a $500,000 grant in the seat of Kennedy - held by renegade independent MP Bob Katter - be dropped and the same amount instead be given to the Hawthorn Malvern Hockey Centre. The centre is in the electorate of Kooyong, held by Liberal frontbencher Josh Frydenberg.
Senator McKenzie's office resisted, claiming the Kennedy project was "a very important one for the region" and the sport minister was due to visit the seat with the Liberal National Party candidate who had been lobbying for the money.
The sport minister's office relented after the Prime Minister's office pointed out the project had already received $3 million in funding through a separate grants program.
Senator McKenzie's staff sent the new list to Sport Australia with the requested change at 8.46am on April 11. The government had gone into caretaker mode at 8.30am.
At 8.54am, the Prime Minister's Office asked for the list to be provided in Excel form instead of a PDF, with the rationale: "We need to be able to cross check against our list and also be able to pull individual projects out to coordinate announcements and material from CCHQ [Coalition Campaign Headquarters]."
After a back-and-forth, Senator McKenzie's office agreed to supply the spreadsheet at 12.04pm, saying "there are a couple of mistakes which we are fixing - we were just missing a couple of additional projects".
The final version of the spreadsheet was sent to the Prime Minister's office at 12.35pm and to Sport Australia at 12.43pm.
The audit office found 11 changes were made, with nearly $2.8 million in extra funds approved.
One of the changes was a $500,000 grant to the Grange Thistle Soccer Club in Brisbane. The club was originally included as a recipient, and Liberal National MP Trevor Evans had announced the club would receive funding in a media release on April 9. However it had been removed after the Prime Minister's office advised it would instead receive money through the Community Development Grants program on April 10.
"At 9:10pm on 11 April 2019 the Prime Minister's office asked the minister's office to confirm that this project would be included in the list of grants being approved in the third round of [the Community Sport Infrastructure Grant program] and so it was re-included in the final version of the spreadsheet as being approved for funding," the audit office said.
Mr Morrison on Monday denied he had mislead parliament about his office's involvement in the affair.
"It's good to see that the Canberra press gallery is back to politics as usual," Mr Morrison said.
In late February, Mr Morrison hit back at accusations his office played a role in determining which clubs got grants, saying Senator McKenzie was the decision-maker.
Senator McKenzie resigned as Deputy Leader of the National Party in February, after an investigation by Prime Minister and Cabinet secretary Phil Gaetjens found she breached ministerial standards by awarding grants to gun clubs she had undisclosed interests in.