Bridget McKenzie gave a $500,000 grant to the Northern Territory shooting club of Nigel Scullion, her former Coalition colleague and fellow shooting enthusiast.
Scullion is a longtime member and “diehard” supporter of the NT Field and Game Association, a popular gun club for the territory’s hunters and clay target shooters.
The former Coalition senator and Indigenous affairs minister, who resigned at the last election, strongly supported his gun club’s bid for a $500,000 grant through the government’s controversial community sport infrastructure program.
The gun club wanted to undertake significant upgrades to its facilities, including lighting for twilight shooting, showers for female shooters, and upgrades to allow for all-weather access.
McKenzie signed off on the decision to award the grant and was present at the club when it was announced just weeks before the federal election.
The club praised Scullion and other Country Liberal party members for their efforts in “securing the grant”.
Scullion and McKenzie were parliamentary colleagues until he resigned. He sat with her and her fellow Nationals senators in federal parliament, and the pair were shooting enthusiasts.
They have been pictured together at multiple shooting events.
Scullion and McKenzie also combined to publicly encourage NT sports clubs to apply for grants to the community sport infrastructure program in August 2018.
There is no suggestion the club was not eligible to receive funds through the program.
Scullion listed his membership of the NT Field and Game Association on his parliamentary register of interests last year.
A spokesman for Scullion told Guardian Australia he had strongly supported the grant application. The club was not only eligible but also “very deserving”, given sport shooting was one of the fastest growing sports in the NT and the association’s membership had grown rapidly in recent years.
“NTFGA should not be excluded and their members punished by virtue of Nigel’s membership of the club,” the spokesman said. “Of course Nigel and all of his [Country Liberal] colleagues strongly supported the NTFGA application and were pleased that the application was successful.
“A number of other sporting codes in the NT which Nigel has no association with received significant funding, including netball and soccer.”
McKenzie has her own interests in shooting. The Sydney Morning Herald and the Age revealed last week she is a member of another gun club – the Wangaratta clay target club, which received $36,000 in the grant scheme – and is the official patron of the Australian Clay Target Association, but had declared neither on her register of interests.
The papers reported she had awarded $1m to shooting clubs, including the $500,000 to the NT Field and Game Association.
The continued revelations about the $100m grant scheme have continued to put pressure on the government.
The ABC reported on Tuesday that Sport Australia, the body responsible for administering the program, had voiced concerns to McKenzie’s office about political interference. It also reported that her office was at one stage working from a spreadsheet of grant applications that were colour-coded by electorate and political party.
The reports follow a damning auditor general’s report that found the grants had been used to help the Coalition in targeted or marginal seats. The audit report found Sport Australia’s objective, independent assessment of the merits of each grant application had been subverted by the minister’s office.
In an address to the National Press Club on Wednesday, the prime minister, Scott Morrison, suggested that leaving grant decisions solely to departments was not always the most effective way to deliver money.
“Politicians, ministers, members of parliament, we’re part of our community,” he said. “We know what is happening in our community. We are in touch with our community. We know the things that can make a difference in our community. It is important, because we are accountable to those people in our communities for getting stuff done that is going to make a difference in their communities.”
The Guardian has previously revealed more than 10 grants went to sports clubs where Coalition MPs were either members, patrons or sponsors.
McKenzie and the NT Field and Game Association were approached for comment.