Clown of the Week Senator Bridget McKenzie has timed her outrages well. Just as the monumental sports rorts scandal was eventually swallowed by the sinkhole of 2020 and forgotten, so too was her Senate appearance (on the same topic) this week.
Her predictably evasive and reluctant appearance might have raised more ire had it not come in a week like this one, with the news cycle being dominated by the ongoing and horrifying revelations of the government’s handling of an alleged rape at Parliament House, and Facebook’s blocking of Australian news services.
The performance was entirely in keeping with the scandal, which in turn is entirely in keeping with the government. McKenzie had resigned as agriculture minister in February last year — not for the blatant and demonstrable abuse of public funds to help the Coalition’s re-election, but for failure to declare a gun club membership. This week, she “took full responsibility” for the program, while not conceding any wrongdoing, throwing staffers under the bus and describing the program as “wildly popular” and “successful”.
What of the talking points prepared by her senior adviser for a November 2018 meeting with Morrison, which argued for the program to be expanded from $30 million to $100 million by demonstrating how many projects in marginal and targeted seats could be funded by the extra money? Never heard of it. McKenzie told the Senate she had never seen it and was “not at all” aware of its content.
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McKenzie also “couldn’t recall” if she’d been briefed on those talking points, but “absolutely categorically” denied that was “a subject discussed at the meeting with the prime minister”. McKenzie further claimed the marginal and target status of seats came into her decision making.
What of the 136 emails exchanged between her and the prime minister’s office, 15 of which also contained a spreadsheet of projects conveniently arranged by electorate? “Not unusual”, according to McKenzie. We bet.
It is worth remembering the details of the sports rorts affair and just how blatant the process was. McKenzie’s office, with no legal authority, handed out over $100 million in grants, based on a “parallel assessment process” which took into account “analysis on ‘marginal’ electorates held by the Coalition as well as those electorates not held by the Coalition that were to be ‘targeted’ in the 2019 election”. As a result, several grants that met the approval requirements set by Sports Australia where ignored in favour of applications that did not.
The saga was both revealed and exemplified by the sight of beaming Georgina Downer, the Liberal candidate for Mayo, holding a giant cheque for Yankalilla Bowls Club with her face and the Liberal Party logo on it — the brazen use of public money for political gain.
Then, obviously satisfied that a year was long enough to go without causing the government serious headaches, McKenzie had the gall to join (another) Nationals revolt on climate change policy.
McKenzie, along with Matt Canavan, has thrown her support behind Barnaby Joyce — who earlier prepared an amendment that would allow the Clean Energy Finance Corporation to invest in coal. Because this is what the Nationals do, the moves have more to do with undermining current Nationals leader (and future particularly tricky pub trivia answer) Michael McCormack than producing any benefit for even the small section of Australia the party purports to represent.
So, thanks to the shamelessness and impunity of this government, we can look forward to McKenzie continuing to contribute to the one thing the Nats do consistently achieve: meaningless internal chaos.