Prime Minister Scott Morrison has swatted away questions about $10 million given to the North Sydney Olympic swimming pool on Sydney Harbour under the regional program.
“This is one of the bits of misinformation that are out there,” Mr Morrison told 2GB radio on Wednesday.
“When I announced the program, I didn’t say it was for regional areas, it was for areas right across the country.
“That was a piece of information that was provided incorrectly by the department, that it only applied to regional areas.”
The $150 million scheme, announced weeks before the 2019 federal election, was originally designed to build female change rooms and upgrade community swimming pools in rural and regional areas.
The explanation didn’t wash with Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese, who said the government had spent months hiding information about handouts before the 2019 federal election.
“This is like pulling teeth,” he told ABC radio on Wednesday.
Mr Albanese said the Prime Minister was “up to his neck” in the sports rorts affair and accused him of misleading parliament.
“I want him to actually treat the Parliament seriously and to tell the truth and to say what the involvement of his office was,” he said.
Elsewhere on Wednesday, Sport Australia admitted giving incorrect evidence to a Senate committee about the timing of the final decision on the Morrison government’s “sports rorts” program.
And a minister revealed staff from Mr Morrison’s office visited him late on Tuesday to talk about his appearance in a Senate committee investigating the issue on Wednesday.
Sport Australia originally told a Senate hearing that then-sports minister Bridget McKenzie sent it the final list of projects for funding under the controversial $100 million community sport grants program on April 11, 2019 – about 20 minutes after the federal election was called.
But, on Monday, the audit office told senators that list changed more than three hours later. A second final version was sent to Sport Australia at 12.43pm.
On Wednesday, Labor frontbencher Katy Gallagher confronted Sport Australia chief operating officer Luke McCann about the discrepancy.
“Your evidence on that day was clearly not correct, was it?” she said.
“No senator,” he replied.
“On the day we took an undertaking within the committee to answer the question, I received a message from my office that indicated it was 8.46 [am].
“In hindsight, we should have taken that on notice and done a more thorough search.”
Mr McCann’s team found the later emails during a search over the weekend and let him know mid-morning on Monday.
He read the note early on Tuesday – but was still to correct the record of his evidence on Wednesday.
Nor did he bring copies of the April 11 emails to the hearing on Wednesday.
“It is very convenient that you’ve appeared today without these key documents, Mr McCann. Are you withholding information from this committee?” Senator Gallagher said.
Ms McCann denied that and described the updated information as “a change in attachment not a change in brief”.
Labor is pursuing the question of the timing of Senator McKenzie’s approval of the grants because under the caretaker conventions governments are not supposed to make major decisions during an election period.
Mr McCann said Sport Australia had taken advice from the health department’s legal team about caretaker rules.
He met Sport Minister Richard Colbeck on Tuesday to discuss the Wednesday estimates appearance.
Senator Colbeck also revealed two of Mr Morrison’s staffers came to his office on Tuesday night to discuss the grants program.
“There was a clear understanding that there was a difference in the evidence provided by Sport Australia and the ANAO and that would have to be resolved,” he said.
Senator Gallagher asked if he had advised the PM’s staff of this.
“They were already aware of it,” he said.