Jacqui Lambie has exploded at the government in the Senate, accusing Scott Morrison of treating Australians like “absolute morons”.
Jacqui Lambie has exploded at the government in the Senate, accusing Scott Morrison of treating Australians like “absolute morons”.

‘I’ve had a gutful’: Jacqui Lambie unleashes

Independent Senator Jacqui Lambie has torched the government for refusing to release its internal report into the "sports rorts" scandal, saying it "reeks of a cover-up".

The government has still not conceded it misused taxpayers' money for political gain when it used a $100 million sport grants program to funnel cash into electorates it wanted to win at last year's election.

Two reports have examined the administration of that program - and reached contradictory conclusions.

The first, written by Auditor-General Grant Hehir, found the program was compromised by political considerations. Instead of simply giving money to the most deserving applicants, the government favoured projects based in seats targeted by the Coalition.

"The award of funding reflected the approach documented by the minister's office of focusing on 'marginal' electorates held by the Coalition as well as those electorates held by other parties or independent members that were to be 'targeted' by the Coalition at the 2019 election," the Auditor-General said.

The second report, commissioned at the request of Prime Minister Scott Morrison, was written by Phil Gaetjens, who once worked as Mr Morrison's chief of staff and is now the head of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.

Summing up that report at a press conference earlier this month, Mr Morrison said Mr Gaetjens "did not find evidence that this process was unduly influenced by reference to marginal or targeted electorates".

How is it possible that these two reports looked at the same program and reached such mutually exclusive conclusions? We don't know, because only one of them has actually been released to the public.

The Auditor-General report is available for anyone to read online. The Gaetjens report is not. Mr Morrison has refused to publish it.

And Ms Lambie is not happy about it.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison quoted from the Gaetjens report but said he would not be releasing it. Picture: Mick Tsikas/AAP
Prime Minister Scott Morrison quoted from the Gaetjens report but said he would not be releasing it. Picture: Mick Tsikas/AAP

Last week the Senate passed a motion compelling the government to release the Gaetjens report.

When it did not comply, Liberal Senate leader Mathias Cormann was required to front up to the chamber and explain why. He did that at 5.20pm yesterday.

Mr Cormann claimed public interest immunity over the report, arguing it "informed and was the subject of Cabinet deliberations".

"As is well recognised in the Westminster system, it is in the public interest to preserve the confidentiality of Cabinet deliberations to ensure the best possible decisions are made following thorough consideration and discussion," he said.

Mr Cormann said the Gaetjens report had been prepared for Cabinet's public governance committee, which is "part of the deliberative process".

"Disclosure of the document subject to the motion is not in the public interest, as it would reveal, and therefore harm, Cabinet deliberations," he said.

He added that Mr Gaetjens intended to make a public statement "in due course", presumably during the Senate's inquiry into the grants program.

The government’s Senate leader Mathias Cormann. Picture Kym Smith
The government’s Senate leader Mathias Cormann. Picture Kym Smith

Ms Lambie immediately rose to her feet when Mr Cormann was done, and proceeded to rip into the government.

"I find it very shameful. What a sorry, sorry affair this is, and what a poor show from our government. Australians deserve an explanation," Ms Lambie said.

"You can tell us whatever rot you want to in here. This is why there is no trust from the Australian people."

Ms Lambie said it was "right" that Bridget McKenzie, the minister responsible for the sport grants program, had resigned. But she pointed out that Ms McKenzie stepped down over a technicality - not the broader misuse of taxpayer funds.

"By pinning her resignation on a conflict of interest, the government are trying to pretend that using taxpayers' money to bolster their re-election campaign is acceptable behaviour. They're saying that pork barrelling is acceptable behaviour. They're saying that using a supposedly independent $100 million grant scheme as a slush fund is acceptable political behaviour," Ms Lambie said.

"They don't see any issue with the fact that worthy projects missed out on funding because they weren't in electorates that the Coalition needed to win."

Next, Ms Lambie took aim at the idea that voters should trust Mr Morrison's former chief of staff over the Auditor-General, who is an independent officer of parliament.

"Now they're telling us not to worry about the independent review from the very well respected Auditor-General. Apparently the auditors got it wrong. The PM is asking us, instead of putting our trust in the Auditor-General, to believe in a PM&C review," she said.

"The person in charge of the review was Phil Gaetjens, the head of PM&C. He is supposed to be an objective observer, but he's really the PM's former chief of staff. If that is not a conflict of interest, my god, what is wrong with you people in here?

"Now we've been told we can't see the report. We just have to take the PM's word, his mate's word about whether Senator McKenzie's behaviour was unethical? We don't need his word, because every Australian out there can see it is unethical. What is going on here?

"Without seeing the report, the public can't know how Mr Gaetjens investigated the matter or how he came to his conclusions. That would be because, I imagine, the report is below the standard required.

"I'm not the only one saying this. Nearly every Australian out there is saying it. If you think you're pulling the wool over their eyes, that is shameful, absolutely shameful. I want trust. I want trust back in politicians, and you're doing everything you can to destroy that, everything. I've had a gutful."

Jacqui Lambie ripped in to the government in the Senate yesterday.
Jacqui Lambie ripped in to the government in the Senate yesterday.

Ms Lambie suggested the Prime Minister was taking Australians for "morons".

"We're supposed to trust this so-called independent process that found that Senator McKenzie made a mistake in not declaring her shooting club membership, but not that she misused taxpayer funds," she continued.

"According to the Prime Minister we're supposed to trust that there was no basis for the suggestion that political considerations were the primary determining factor.

"Does he take us all for morons? Does he? Does he take millions of Australians out there for absolute morons? Shameful.

"The Auditor-General is going up against the PM's mate, and apparently we should trust the PM when he says the report shows there is nothing to see here. Nothing to see here. But he doesn't have the guts to show that report here and show it to millions of Australians that want to see that report."

Finally, she turned her attention to Mathias Cormann and the short justification he had offered for withholding the Gaetjens report.

"I cannot believe the Minister didn't blush when he was running his lines over there. He feels no shame, he has no conscience. He might as well have fronted up here and declared the sky isn't blue," said Ms Lambie.

"We've seen the evidence, we've seen the spreadsheets, we know what you've been up to. At least have the courage, the spine, to release the PM&C report so that the Australian people can make up their own minds about why the PM's buddy would disagree with the Auditor-General. If the process really was that thorough and independent, they shouldn't have anything to hide.

"Completely, absolutely, it reeks of cover-up. It reeks of absolute cover-up. it's the stench of it. Stop protecting yourselves and start governing the country. Start being bloody honest with the people in this country."