National

Cabinet backs McKenzie over sports grants

By AAP Newswire

Senior government ministers are continuing to back embattled Nationals deputy leader Bridget McKenzie despite sustained pressure over a sports grants scandal.

The auditor-general found the former sports minister awarded most of the $100 million doled out in grants to groups in seats the coalition targeted at the last election.

The auditor-general found 73 per cent of the projects Senator McKenzie approved were not recommended by Sport Australia.

But Treasurer Josh Frydenberg insists no rules were broken, echoing Prime Minister Scott Morrison and other cabinet colleagues.

"All the projects were eligible under this program," Mr Frydenberg told reporters in Canberra on Tuesday.

The Hawthorn Malvern Hockey Club in Mr Frydenberg's affluent Melbourne seat of Kooyong received $500,000 to upgrade its pavilion including new change rooms for women and a gym.

The treasurer, who held his seat despite a challenge from the Greens, said there were deserving projects in all electorates.

"The point about the sporting clubs in everyone's electorate is often they do their own fund raising," Mr Frydenberg said.

"They don't often get access to state, federal or local government financial support and a lot of them survive off the smell of an oily rag."

Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese is demanding the government release the details of all applicants and why some missed out.

"This minister's position is completely untenable, because this minister intervened with what would appear to be no legal basis whatsoever," he told reporters in Perth.

It was farcical for Attorney-General and Liberal MP Christian Porter to be tasked with looking into the scheme after his electorate benefited from the scheme, Mr Albanese said.

Nationals frontbencher David Littleproud said he was confident the program was rolled out according to the guidelines.

He gave Senator McKenzie his full support.

"Of course she does - she's doing a damn good job," Mr Littleproud told reporters on Tuesday.

Legal expert Professor Anne Twomey questioned whether the deputy Nationals leader breached the constitution.

"What is astonishing about the latest sports-rorts affair is its brazenness, culminating in the assertion that 'no rules were broken'," she wrote in the Australian Financial Review.

The University of Sydney professor of constitutional law warned the federal government has no power to hand out money to sports clubs.

Senator McKenzie has refused to apologise, while Mr Morrison and Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack are backing the under-fire minister.

Labor's former sports minister Ros Kelly stepped down from the ministry and then parliament in 1995 following a similar scandal.