Bridget McKenzie resists calls to quit

Bridget McKenzie continues to face calls to resign from her role as agriculture minister as Prime Minister Scott Morrison awaits advice on the controversial sports grant scandal.

In a press conference this afternoon, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he was waiting on the report from Cabinet Secretary Philip Gaetjens.

"That process is important and has been put in place ...to ensure there is a consistency of application and assessment in relation to these issues. It's the right thing for me to do to seek advice on those matters, I await that advice and I await that report," he said.

Ms McKenzie's job has been described as "untenable" as the fallout from her controversial $100 million sports grant program, while she was sports minister, continues.

Ms McKenzie, who is also Nationals deputy leader, is facing an investigation into whether she breached ministerial standards with the allocation of sports grants.

Minister for Agriculture Bridget McKenzie and Prime Minister Scott Morrison speak to the media during a press conference at Parliament House in Canberra, Tuesday, January 14, 2020. Picture: Marc Tewksbury/AAP
Minister for Agriculture Bridget McKenzie and Prime Minister Scott Morrison speak to the media during a press conference at Parliament House in Canberra, Tuesday, January 14, 2020. Picture: Marc Tewksbury/AAP

The PM stood by the sports grant program again this afternoon when he was questioned on the legitimacy of its operation.

"What I am pleased about is that hundreds of sporting bodies across the country, who put forth eligible projects, were able to get support for those projects, and that they have a government that cares about the sporting infrastructure in communities," Mr Morrison said.

"I've got two daughters, I don't want them changing in the car or out the back of the shed I want them to have access to sporting facilities like the boys do.

"Sporting infrastructure is central to the functioning of Australian communities. That's where people come together."

In an adamant statement this afternoon, Ms McKenzie's office said the senator would not be resigning.

"The Minister is not resigning," her office said in a statement.

"She is actively engaging in the process and is confident there has not been a breach in ministerial standards."

Political journalists including Sky News political editor Andrew Clennell and The Australian columnist Peter van Onselen are both reporting that Ms McKenzie is expected to leave her frontbench position.

 

Earlier, the PM asked his department head Philip Gaetjens to look at a $36,000 grant Senator McKenzie awarded to a shooting club of which she was a member.

The former sports minister didn't disclose the membership on her register of interests.

A spokeswoman said a declaration was unnecessary because it was a gift worth less than $300.

Mr Gaetjens will also take a broader look at the controversial program the grant was awarded under after a damning auditor-general's report found most of the $100 million was spent in marginal seats.

The audit found Senator McKenzie ignored Sport Australia's advice on which organisations should get grants, with 73 per cent of the projects not recommended by the agency.

In a statement, the prime minister's office said Mr Morrison had referred the grants program to Mr Gaetjens on Friday.

"The prime minister is awaiting the secretary's advice and will continue to follow due process. The matters raised in the media today have also been referred," a spokesman said.

Labor has accused the prime minister of showing a complete lack of leadership by flicking the investigation off to the public service.

"It's his minister, it's his ministerial standards," shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus told the ABC.

"Bridget McKenzie should have resigned days ago, and if she won't resign Mr Morrison needs to sack her. We already know all that any real leader should need to know in sacking this minister.

"The only reason she has lasted as long as she has is that Mr Morrison and his cabinet are all up to their necks in this."

The Greens argue the "sports rorts" scandal shows the need for a national anti-corruption commission.

"It becomes clearer by the day as to why the Liberals don't want a federal anti-corruption watchdog," Greens MP Adam Bandt said.

"Maybe Scott Morrison is getting ready to throw Bridget McKenzie under a bus even though it was all hatched in Scott Morrison's office."

The pressure on Senator McKenzie intensified after it emerged she awarded $36,000 to the Wangaratta Clay Target Club in February 2019.

"Round-two funding became available in December 2018 at MYEFO and funding decisions were made from that time," Senator McKenzie's spokeswoman said.

Attorney-General Christian Porter, who is looking at legal questions raised by the auditor-general, defended having ministerial oversight on grant programs.

"What I fundamentally don't accept is that ministers should not be involved in final approval for projects. That's their job," he told 6PR radio.

- with AAP



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