Bridget Bites the Bullet
Senator Bridget McKenzie resigned from Cabinet on Sunday afternoon after a report by the head of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Phil Gaetjens, found that she had breached ministerial standards.
The report found that the fact that Senator McKenzie had failed to disclose that she was a member of a gun club for which she had approved a Commonwealth grant, represented a conflict of interest and a failure of transparency.
It is understood that Mr Gaetjens report made little comment on the Auditor-General’s Report on the allocation of sports grants as a whole. This concluded that the Government had favored marginal seats in the allocation of grants and had ignored the recommendations of Sports Australia, which were based on merit.
In an interview with ABC Insiders’ David Speers, the Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said that the Government had accepted the recommendations of Auditor including that there should be more transparency around the allocation of Commonwealth grants, particularly where ministerial discretion is involved. He said that in the future, if a minister departed from the recommendations of bureaucrats, then they would have to document their reasons for the decision and make the document public.
The Treasurer also indicated that at the next budget provision would be made for additional funding for sporting bodies that were considered worthy of assistance but missed out in the first program. Whether this will be enough to pacify the electorate and the media remains to be seen.
In the meantime speculation has started over who will replace Senator McKenzie. Barnaby Joyce has started backgrounding that he wants the job of Deputy Leader of the Nationals. This is Michael McCormack’s worst nightmare because Mr Joyce would be trying to destabilize McCormack’s leadership so he could take over. The Liberals would also oppose a Joyce return to the leadership group because of his adversarial attitude towards them. It is understood that Mathias Cormann and Josh Frydenberg are strongly resisting a Joyce return.
The problem is that Michael McCormack is a weak leader who needs protection around him. It is likely that the Nats will set up a new leadership group that will consist of David Littleproud as Deputy Leader, Matt Canavan as Senate Leader, Darren Chester moving into cabinet and a new female minister. This change is expected to get strong party support and to see Barnaby Joyce consigned to the back bench for some time to come.
There is speculation that Bridget McKenzie will quit the Senate at the next election and relocate to New Zealand where her partner is a member of the New Zealand Parliament. She would have no problem getting a job in the private sector in either Australia or New Zealand.
It is likely that Labor and the Greens will press ahead the establishment of a Senate Select Committee to investigate the ‘sports rorts’ when Parliament resumes. They will attempt to force an admission from Senator McKenzie that she engaged in pork barreling and that the Prime Minister and other ministers were involved. If they are successful with this ploy then they can claim that the Coalition bought the last election and that the Government was not legitimately elected.
They are unlikely to be successful.