Trump virus infects bad sport McKenzie

Ian Bushnell 27 January 2020 47
Bridget McKenzie

Bridget McKenzie refuses to accept there was anything wrong with the Community Sport Infrastructure grant program. Photo: Wikidata.

I was listening to the news on the radio driving back to the office the other day and there was Donald Trump mouthing off about his impeachment trial and how it was all fake news.

I’m thinking, this guy is President of the United States, supposedly the greatest democracy in the world, and this is the model for leadership?

He gets caught red-handed every time but he denies everything, says it’s all made-up, hits back with some outlandish claim and, anyway, nobody out in the real world cares what’s happening in Washington.

And I asked myself is anybody accountable anymore? Because here in Canberra we’re getting fed the same BS, in longer, more coherent sentences, but it’s got the same stench about it.

It used to be that if a minister, or Prime Minister for that matter, did the wrong thing, breached a standard, or something untoward happened on their watch, the honourable member would do the honourable thing and walk.

Not now. Angus Taylor won’t take responsibility for using false figures in an attack on Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore over overseas travel in some inane ploy to call out her supposed hypocrisy on climate change. PM Scott Morrison has got his back. NSW Police have now handpassed it to the AFP.

Morrison also has Bridget McKenzie’s back, under siege over the sports rorts affair.

Well, he did at first, but he’s now referred the damning Auditor-General’s report on the Community Sport Infrastructure grant program which she administered to his own department (PM&C) to investigate whether any ministerial standards were breached.

Basically, the Nationals Deputy Leader and former Sports Minister ran a pork barrelling exercise, channelling millions of taxpayer dollars in sports grants to Coalition marginal seats or seats it was targeting before last May’s unwinnable election.

Sport Australia had sent off a list of worthy recipients, only for her office to make quite a few alterations, because it had its own list of even worthier recipients.

Is McKenzie fazed by the report, or subsequent stories about how some grants went to pretty well-heeled clubs in “lucky” electorates, or her own conflict of interest?

No way. No apologies, no embarrassment and, hey, every recipient was eligible.

And minister after minister lined up with the same talking points about no rules being broken, because basically there weren’t any to break, and they all made a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, lauding the great work the grants are doing in their communities.

Now, the miracle of May has been attributed to one of the most disciplined, tightly run and coordinated Coalition campaigns ever mounted, built around the Prime Minister and his office.

Would the Prime Minister’s office really be unaware of a $100 million grants program in the lead-up to an election in which all stops need to be pulled out?

Is that something Mr Morrison’s investigation will look at? More likely it will be process and procedure.

It is entirely plausible that the Coalition decided to use every advantage of incumbency in the fight of its life, and worry about the consequences later, if it survived.

The real fun will begin when Parliament resumes, and Labor can ask some questions in the House and through a Senate committee.

It may all seem a bit of a sideshow compared with the ongoing bushfire crisis, but the sports rorts affair signals another crisis – the breakdown of what was once known as responsible government, and the accountability at its core.

The Trump model appears to be contagious, and it’s infecting the Australian body politic.

McKenzie may yet be forced out, as the scrutiny of the media and Parliament intensifies, or the PM throws her under a bus.

Or she could also ride out the controversy, supported by a Prime Minister all too willing to accept a finding of mere structural issues with the program, and take the “Canberra bubble”, “fake news” route.

But if she does go, will it stop there?

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47 Responses to Trump virus infects bad sport McKenzie
Futureproof Futureproof 5:24 pm 01 Feb 20

Seems like Sports Rorts end up claiming scalps

Christopher Goyne Christopher Goyne 6:17 am 28 Jan 20

They all do it.

Tammy Britt Welsh Tammy Britt Welsh 9:50 pm 27 Jan 20

Quick find a virus, let it in the country, and get the media off the fires, and the sports rort

HiddenDragon HiddenDragon 9:23 pm 27 Jan 20

“It used to be that if a minister, or Prime Minister for that matter, did the wrong thing, breached a standard, or something untoward happened on their watch, the honourable member would do the honourable thing and walk.”

Only if they got caught, and there was no (remaining plausible shred of) plausible deniability. More PMs have drowned (or disappeared in a waiting sub, if you like heavy duty conspiracies….) than have resigned for naughtiness.

The other interesting angle to this episode is the broader practice of federal grants to local bodies.

Doubts have been raised about the constitutionality, which is a reminder that the last referendum on recognising local government in the Constitution (1988) was supported by only one third of voters. A government, which was even half as conservative as the Morrison government is regularly claimed to be, would use this episode as an excuse to radically cut back on such programs, and either take that as a Budget saving, or add the funds to general grants to States and Territories – with handy administrative savings in Canberra.

GrumpyMark GrumpyMark 7:45 pm 27 Jan 20

@Matthew Windebank “You can’t tell me any other party would have done any different if the tables were turned….”
Actually I can, Matthew. As stated in another thread, in 1994, Labor Sports Minister, Ros Kelly, was (rightly IMHO) forced to resign, following unrelenting pressure from the opposition – despite the fact that the accusations of wrong doing or pork barrelling were not actually proven. The raised eyebrows of the Auditor General were enough ammunition.

Capital Retro Capital Retro 5:41 pm 27 Jan 20

Vanessa Jones is on the money regarding what has been happening under the incumbent Labor governmnet for almost 20 years straight, namely the money (pork barreling) that is doled out to the voting Canberra sporting sector

That doesn’t include “backdoor” sponsorship through education institutions etc. either.

Bethany Williams Bethany Williams 5:24 pm 27 Jan 20

The entire LNP is complicit in the rorting and scheming to stay in power. Their determination to remain in government obscures any sense of common decency they might have once had, and now its ‘win at all costs’.

And the government investigating itself is laughable. There is no way that Scotty from Marketing is going to implicate himself, or anyone else in this matter. And the *investigation* that he has asked PM&C Secretary Phil Gaetjens is a complete farce. How can the *investigation* be impartial when Scotty has only asked for the issue of her gift of a $300 membership to be looked into to see if it breached the (toothless) ministerial code of conduct.

Furthermore, Phil Gaetjens was Scotty’s former Chief of Staff. So there will never be an objective investigation.

It’s all about looking after the boys in the LNP.

The ONLY way we are ever going to see accountability and responsibility brought back into government is to set up a federal ICAC - with real teeth.

The only way this will happen is to vote out the LNP and force a Labor to set one up.

    Daniel Duncan Daniel Duncan 6:14 pm 27 Jan 20

    Both sides do the same thing. The only way we can get rid of them is to vote them out.

kim2614 kim2614 3:47 pm 27 Jan 20

Do you ever stop whingeing Vanessa Jones? A candidate at the last election, I had the misfortune to encounter her on my front doorstep back then. She just didn’t stop whingeing about the Labor candidates and the tram. She’s still complaining.

rationalobserver rationalobserver 1:00 pm 27 Jan 20

All this talk about ministerial accountability, but does that not also come with ministerial authority?
Are those mouthing off seriously suggesting that some nameless bureaucrat should have more say on how federal government money is allocated that the elected member in charge of that entire portfolio?
This is democracy people. Your opportunity to trigger a change in personnel is at the next election. Good luck finding a politician who would have acted any differently.

    astro2 astro2 9:02 pm 27 Jan 20

    Nice try mate but no cigar. It’s quite clear that decisions were made based on published guidelines by people at arm’s length and unbiased. Bridget overturned a transparent decision-making process to suit her own political ends. That is clearly rorting the system by favouring seats the coalition wanted to win or otherwise her ‘besties. Even her own staff warned her of this. There’s no doubt she must be removed from the front bench and should also resign.

    GrumpyMark GrumpyMark 10:21 pm 27 Jan 20

    Once again your argument belies your handle … it’s a grant system based on applications submitted by sports organisations and assessed on a set of pre-determined criteria – and I’m sure, as another poster stated, those criteria would not have determined a rugby union club was entitled to $500k, which, in part, was to be used .to fund change rooms for a non-existent female team. Why don’t you take the blinkers off and read the report produced by the Australian National Audit Office ( – it may actually bring some rationality to your observations.

    rationalobserver rationalobserver 4:45 pm 28 Jan 20

    Astro2 and grumpy mark, I remind you both that it was the ministers job to make the decision. That decision was simply informed by the evaluations undertaken by the sports commission against a set criteria. It was not the bureaucrats job to decide; never was, never should be. Critique the decision all you like, but don’t confer authority that was never anyone’s but the ministers.

Vanessa Jones Vanessa Jones 10:22 am 27 Jan 20

It seems to me that the long term ACT Labor-Greens govt is excellent at favouring marginal/Greens inner city seats for funding, ie tram, parks, playgrounds, pools, chilled water refill fountains, dog parks, and the ACT govt is excellent at ignoring safe Labor seats ie West Belconnen (no public pool, no chilled water refill fountain).

But the CBR media is so silent about that....why the silence? Does the media live in the well funded/spoilt marginal seats, where home prices increase due to the tram funding etc, so the media sees it as ok, fine, keep doing it?

In the old days this was just called pork barrelling. Where is the outrage about this in CBR? It has gone on for years but it's Labor-Greens....

Joanne Rogers Joanne Rogers 9:07 am 27 Jan 20

Surely this woman wasn't acting on her own with this. Instructions must've come right from the top.

They're all guilty!

    Julia Ross Julia Ross 9:53 am 27 Jan 20

    Joanne Rogers my sentiments exactly. She would've been directed to do this. I hope she has an email trail that can bring down the real perpetrator.

Jim Jim Jim Jim 9:06 am 27 Jan 20

Nothing surprises. Political standards at all levels and flavours are dreadful. The conflicts of interest, political donations, and general lack of accountability, are appalling.

Frank Trapani Frank Trapani 9:04 am 27 Jan 20

Unbelievable, as soon as a politician gives away money instead of taking , all the other politicians from the opposition parties , they speak with such innocent and angelic voice and make it to be that the giver is evil...But, it turns out that this same evil, is the same evil that gave a hell of Lot more money to the innocent and angelic voices than what she has given to sports...And Now who's Who?? I don't know. 😄😄

    Frank Trapani Frank Trapani 5:44 pm 27 Jan 20

    Malcolmo Oz. No . What I am saying is; "she has not been charged with anything yet," and until is proven that she's done something illegal...She's still innocent and I am saying that she's has done what many other Ministers in the same portfolio have done it..Except on this occasion, it suited other people to complain about it. But, let see what happens??

    Jo Hann Jo Hann 12:34 am 28 Jan 20

    It's clear that you do not understand what she's done. There is no question that she overruled the recommendations of Sports Australia in 70% of cases for Round 2, and 73% in Round 3. There is no doubt as to which electorates received her favour - they were all marginal seats. That it wasn't TECHNICALLY illegal does not make it any less corrupt and contemptible. When we put our trust in these people to spend our taxes, we have the right to demand that it is used for the good of the people, NOT for the benefit of the political party.

Amanda Lowman Amanda Lowman 9:03 am 27 Jan 20

I genuinely don’t understand why the PM and the Leader of the National Party have not supported a National Audit process. Does this mean Audit findings are unreliable? Ms McKenzie is being paid BASE rate of $220k+ per year and couldn’t follow a shopping list. Why did she think the list needed changing? Please bring back ICAC!

    Glen Rothwell Glen Rothwell 12:07 pm 27 Jan 20

    Amanda Lowman same reason they didn't support the banking royal commission.

    Mandy Hughes Mandy Hughes 6:31 am 28 Jan 20

    Amanda Lowman more likely my friend the Audit findings were reliable, that could be a problem for the government.

Daniel Duncan Daniel Duncan 8:52 am 27 Jan 20

Not everything is about Trump.... You only have to put up with him for 4 more years.

Byron Carn Byron Carn 8:13 am 27 Jan 20

Hmm yes, everything bad is attached to Trump

    Natalie Grey Natalie Grey 8:35 am 27 Jan 20

    Byron Carn my shoelace broke - must be Trump!

    Russell Nankervis Russell Nankervis 9:00 am 27 Jan 20

    Trump isn't exactly a muture or good leader.

    Byron Carn Byron Carn 9:02 am 27 Jan 20

    Don’t get me wrong I don’t care for the guy, but people need to take responsibility for their own actions

Matthew Windebank Matthew Windebank 7:44 am 27 Jan 20

If there "weren't any rules to break" and it's likely to come down to internal party "policies and procedures " it's just politics. You can't tell me any other party would have done any different if the tables were turned. And this is a personal observation - I don't particularly care who is in power - the main parties are as bad as each other.

    Matthew Windebank Matthew Windebank 8:10 am 27 Jan 20

    Has fraud been proven?

    Kayla Jay Kayla Jay 8:12 am 27 Jan 20

    Matthew Windebank she did not have the legal authority to make the decision and was told that by Sports Australia. The exact quote from the Audit report was "there are no records evidencing that the Minister was advised of the legal basis on which the Minister could undertake an approval role, and it is not evident to the ANAO what the legal authority was".

    Jill Lyall Jill Lyall 8:12 am 27 Jan 20

    Matthew Windebank when a Labor minister was accused of this exact thing she had to resign. And this is on a much bigger scale and implicates the office of PM, whose hands are all over it. Both the Minister and the PM should resign. This rort was a cruel act against some of Australia’s most disadvantaged communities for cynical political gain. It could well have contributed to LNP winning in certain marginal electorates so it undermines further our trust in the results of the last election. The standard you walk past is the standard you will live under.

    Matthew Windebank Matthew Windebank 8:19 am 27 Jan 20

    Jill Lyall the problem here is that it's still only "implied". There's no need to do anything until it's been proven. If proven I agree wholeheartedly.

    Gerry Satrapa Gerry Satrapa 8:36 am 27 Jan 20

    Matthew Windebank “both parties are as bad as each other” simply isn’t true... whilst both parties work the system, only the LNP will tell you they still did nothing wrong and they’ll throw the entire party support behind the questioned person, whilst calling in the AFP against anyone they suspect leaked information, only to have the case quietly dropped a few months later when the media hype dies down.

    Here a short summary of their behaviour -

    Vicki Herbert Vicki Herbert 8:43 am 27 Jan 20

    Gerry Satrapa that's an interesting read isn't it

    Craig Elliott Craig Elliott 8:46 am 27 Jan 20

    Matthew Windebank agree....doesn't make it is a clear breach of the Ministerial code...she must be sacked. This is a bad look for the National party (remember they think the state should fund regional this shouldn't be a surprise)

    Guy Manton Guy Manton 8:46 am 27 Jan 20

    The standard you walk past is the standard you accept. We need to stop making excuses for low standards from our elected leaders based on whether or not they are from our side of politics. All sides of politics need to be held to higher level accountability.

    Craig Elliott Craig Elliott 8:47 am 27 Jan 20

    Guy Manton couldn't agree more...

    Matthew Windebank Matthew Windebank 8:48 am 27 Jan 20

    Craig Elliott what does the ministerial code say?

    Matthew Windebank Matthew Windebank 8:50 am 27 Jan 20

    Kayla Jay so the minister wasn't advised?

    Robyn Holder Robyn Holder 10:47 am 27 Jan 20

    Matthew Windebank yes. Audit.

    Robyn Holder Robyn Holder 10:53 am 27 Jan 20

    Matthew Windebank there are rules. They were broken. Some recipients advertised grants months before they were announced when Sports Australia's recommendation hadn't gone to the minister. Other applications (from marginal electorates) were accepted after the due date. SA told the minister it was against the rules. Groups that did not apply received grants. Against the rules. Conflict of interest grants approved. Against the rules. Not to mention that so many were just not needed by the recipients.

    Jill Lyall Jill Lyall 4:07 pm 27 Jan 20

    Matthew Windebank what do you mean? It’s all on the record and it is blatantly obvious rules were broken. You don’t just let people like this get away with it by using weasel words. They have behaved unethically and they should resign.

    Matthew Windebank Matthew Windebank 4:35 pm 27 Jan 20

    Jill Lyall I quoted the article....

    Kayla Jay Kayla Jay 11:27 am 28 Jan 20

    Matthew Windebank yes, she was advised she could not do it as there was no authority to do so. The key thing about public administration is that any decision you make must be expressly authorised by law.

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