A photo shared during the Australian election campaign led to an audit that's exposed a "biased" A$100 million cash splash by a senior government minister to shore up marginal seats.
A damning report by the Auditor-General has revealed the awarding of sports grants just before the May 18 poll went against formal advice and were potentially without legal authority, news.com.au reports.
Bridget McKenzie, who was the minister for sport at the time, funnelled some A$100 million ($104m) to sporting clubs via 684 grants in a manner that favoured electorates the Coalition needed to win to retain government.
"Applications from projects located in those electorates were more successful in being awarded funding than if funding was allocated on the basis of merit assessed against the published program guidelines," Auditor-General Grant Hehir found.
In addition, advice from Sport Australia on which applicants should receive the funding was ignored, with McKenzie's office instead running its own "assessments".
More than 60 per cent of projects that received funding weren't recommended by Sports Australia under the existing selection criteria.
The rort was eventually exposed on the back of Labor referring the grant scheme to the Australian National Audit Office after failed Liberal candidate for Mayo Georgina Downer posted an "inappropriate" photo to social media.
In the image, Downer posed with an oversized novelty cheque for A$127,373 to Yankalilla Bowling Club – taxpayer money that she played no role in securing.
The audit exposed several other instances in which sums of money went to electorates "that were to be 'targeted' by the Coalition at the 2019 election", Hehir found.
McKenzie, who is now the agriculture minister as well as the deputy leader of the National Party, has refused to apologise.
Labor is demanding she be sacked, with Tony Burke telling Radio National there "wasn't even clear legal authority" for the grants to be awarded.
"Sports Australia were of the view that it was their decision," Burke said.
"The Department of Health, which was the department in charge, the administering department, their view was the same and they said if the minister wanted to make the decision the minister would have to get fresh legal advice.
"The minister chose to not get fresh legal advice. They just went and did it anyway."
Yesterday, when the report was released, Labor spokesman for sport Don Farrell said the grants were awarded in April, just weeks out from the May 18 poll.
"More than 400 grassroots sports club had their applications, which were highly regarded by Sport Australia, thrown out by this government so they could funnel money into marginal seats instead," Farrell said.
"A full list of the projects hand-picked by Bridget McKenzie and those that missed out because of the Morrison Government's pork-barrelling must be released immediately.
"The Morrison Government's shameless politicisation of taxpayers' money meant for community sports clubs is appalling, unacceptable and cannot go unpunished."
He too demanded that McKenzie be sacked.
Speaking on ABC Radio this morning, McKenzie insisted she'd done nothing wrong and refused to apologise.
"Right now, as a result of our investment, parents are watching their kids get active on a Saturday morning instead of going down to Bunnings and cooking sausages to earn money," she told the Radio National programme.
Those programs funded were eligible, she said – although not endorsed by Sports Australia.
Despite Labor's question over the legal authority uncertainty, McKenzie insists "no rules were broken".