27 January 2020

Trump virus infects bad sport McKenzie

| Ian Bushnell
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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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Seems like Sports Rorts end up claiming scalps

HiddenDragon9:23 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.

@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 Retro5:41 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 https://www.sport.act.gov.au/

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

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.

rationalobserver1:00 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.

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.

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 (https://www.anao.gov.au/work/performance-audit/award-funding-under-the-community-sport-infrastructure-program) – it may actually bring some rationality to your observations.

rationalobserver4:45 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.

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