A respected former public servant has savaged the sports rorts affair and accused the federal government of deliberately trying to keep information from the public.
Former NSW auditor-general Tony Harris tore strips off the sports funding scandal during a Senate inquiry on Monday.
He scolded Prime Minister Scott Morrison and then-sports minister Bridget McKenzie for their handling of the $100 million scheme.
Many of the grants awarded were not endorsed by Sports Australia.
Instead, the government targeted projects in coalition-held and marginal seats ahead of the 2019 election.
Various organisations that missed out on funding despite receiving high scores in the assessment process also gave evidence to express their disappointment.
Mr Harris said there was no legal basis for Senator McKenzie to make decisions about the grants, describing it as a grave misuse of her powers.
He also panned the prime minister's claims his office did nothing more than pass on representations made as "palpable nonsense".
"His attempt to mislead the electorate is a bit disturbing," Mr Harris told the committee in Canberra.
More than 130 emails relating to the scheme went between the offices of Mr Morrison and Senator McKenzie.
Mr Harris also expressed concerns about the reluctance of public servants to provide advice to governments about the limits of powers given to public officials.
"This reticence is a matter of concern, of course, if it leads to ministers and governments making decisions that are palpably unlawful, or when they use powers which they don't have to make decisions," he said.
More broadly, he criticised delays establishing a national integrity commission, deep budget cuts to the federal auditor-general, and difficulties in challenging freedom of information decisions.
"There appears to be by design, not by accident, a drift towards reducing the scrutiny of government, especially by government agencies," Mr Harris said.
"This reduction of scrutiny, of course, is designed presumably so that the electorate doesn't know those things the government doesn't wish it to know."
Mr Harris said both major parties had a history of misusing grant programs.
"It's unfortunate ministers believe that if they make grants to the electorate, they will be able to buy their vote," he said.
"It's a pity they think that way, but it is a greater pity they act that way."
Prime Minister and Cabinet secretary Philip Gaetjens has previously found the sport grants were not used for political purposes.
But the secretary found Senator McKenzie breached ministerial standards by not declaring membership of a gun club that received funding.
Australian Associated Press
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