Bridget McKenzie’s ministerial career hangs in the balance a fortnight after the Prime Minister asked the country’s top bureaucrat to review her conduct.
- Bridget McKenzie is awaiting a review into her handling of a $100m sports grants program
- There remain unanswered questions about the Prime Minister’s office’s involvement in the program
- It has been two weeks since Scott Morrison ordered the review into Senator McKenzie’s conduct
Scott Morrison was widely expected this week to receive a report he ordered into the Nationals deputy leader’s management of a scandal-plagued $100 million pre-election sports grants program.
There is growing sentiment within senior ranks of the Coalition that Senator McKenzie might retain her frontbench position, despite a scathing auditor-general report and revelations she awarded a grant to a gun club she was a member of.
But those who suspect Senator McKenzie might survive insist it is not an endorsement of the actions she took overseeing the grants program.
They have told the ABC survival leaves Senator McKenzie on the thinnest of ice and all but certain to lose her job if she is involved in another scandal.
It has been two weeks since Mr Morrison quietly asked the boss of his department to review if Senator McKenzie had breached ministerial standards in overseeing the program.
An auditor-general report found the Coalition distributed grants with a bias towards marginal seats and those the Coalition was targeting in a pre-election cash splash.
The Cabinet finalised a final round of funding, more than $40 million, just weeks before going into caretaker mode ahead of the May poll.
The saga surrounding the program was further fuelled when the ABC this week revealed some of the projects received hundreds of thousands of dollars in Commonwealth funds despite having not applied when applications closed in September 2018.
That came after the ABC obtained a spreadsheet that revealed the assessment scores Sport Australia gave to projects it assessed, and the colour coding Senator McKenzie’s office used to sort applications according to the federal electorate they were from.
Sources the ABC has spoken with expected Mr Morrison to finalise Senator McKenzie’s ministerial fate before Parliament resumes on Tuesday.
Government sources suspect the Prime Minister could still decide her fate this weekend.
There remain unanswered questions about Mr Morrison’s office’s exact involvement in the grants program.
The Prime Minister has repeatedly said his office’s only involvement was to relay representations it had received from politicians and community members.
Network 10 on Friday revealed an email Senator McKenzie’s then-sport adviser Rebecca Johnson sent to Sport Australia following advice from the Prime Minister’s office.
“We have just been advised by the PM’s office that there have been some projects on the list funded under another grants program. So we have been asked to make a slight adjustment,” the email stated.
According to Network 10 as well as sources the ABC has spoken with, the Prime Minister’s sport adviser Chris Daffey liaised directly with Senator McKenzie’s office regarding the program.
The Prime Minister’s office has repeatedly refused to detail the exact nature of the representations offered to Senator McKenzie’s office.
“Neither the Prime Minister nor his office directed the Minister to fund a specific project,” a spokesperson for Mr Morrison told the ABC late yesterday.
Senator McKenzie, who held the sports portfolio during the grants program, became the first woman to hold the agriculture portfolio after the federal election.