Bridget McKenzie’s frontbench career has come to an end much in the same way it started.
- Bridget McKenzie became a Victorian senator after the 2010 federal election
- She became her party’s deputy leader and a cabinet minister in December 2017
- Senator McKenzie is the only woman to have been the federal agriculture minister
It was a scandal that catapulted her political career to the highest echelons of the Federal Government. It’s now ending in another saga but this time it was of her own making.
Senator McKenzie rose as the dual citizenship saga cost other politicians their careers at the end of 2017.
Fiona Nash’s Scottish-born father, from whom she inherited citizenship by descent, cost her both the Nationals deputy leadership and her seat in the Senate.
Having served on the backbench for six years, Senator McKenzie capitalised on the leadership vacancy, leapfrogging a bevvy of her male colleagues also jockeying for the position.
Her rise to the leadership brought with it a seat in the Cabinet for the former university lecturer.
But she had barely any time to become accustomed to her new leadership role and rural health, sport and regional communication portfolios before scandal again struck her party.
Mere months into her promotion, Senator McKenzie found herself having to defend the actions of the party’s leader, Barnaby Joyce, whose affair and pregnancy with a staffer had engulfed the Nationals.
It cost him his leadership but Senator McKenzie stayed put, with the party promoting Michael McCormack, the embodiment of contrast to Mr Joyce, to the top job.
Barely a month would go by without Nationals backbenchers privately bemoaning the leadership styles Mr McCormack and Senator McKenzie were offering.
But together, they weathered the internal leadership storms and kept their party together, watching on as their Coalition partner tore down another prime minister in the middle of 2018.
Under Scott Morrison’s Liberal leadership, Senator McKenzie kept her sport portfolio and added regional services, decentralisation and local government.
It was during this period in the lead-up to the May 2019 federal election that she took actions as sports minister that would prove so costly.
Few at the time could have predicted how costly the Coalition’s $100 million pre-election sports grant cash splash would be for Senator McKenzie’s career.
Her decision to approve grants that biased towards Coalition marginal seats and those it wanted to win was one thing.
Failing to disclose a membership to a club that received a grant is what ultimately cost the embattled politician her frontbench career.
May’s election win brought with it a final piece in Senator McKenzie’s long-held political ambition.
She assumed the agriculture portfolio, becoming the first woman to ever do so in the Federal Parliament.
Party insiders expect losing this so soon will be the hardest aspect for her to accept.
Her departure from the frontbench means she will most likely be replaced by a man in both the leadership and Cabinet.
This robs Mr Morrison of a trophy he frequently shows off — that under his leadership there is a record number of women in Cabinet.
And while she leaves surrounded in scandal, the Victorian senator leaves behind a legacy few who came before her in the Nationals could challenge.
Until the election, Senator McKenzie sat as the only woman in an Upper House party room of five men.
It’s now an Upper House party room now home to just one man, with three women joining her ranks at the election.
Senator McKenzie prides herself on helping lead the Nationals from being a party of just two women before the election to six afterwards.
Few in the party expect there will be a second coming of Senator McKenzie to the party’s leadership.
But those closest to her paint a different picture.
To them, she’s a tough as nails politician who’s constantly been dismissed and underrated by her male colleagues, yet continually achieving what they doubted she could.
They’re quietly predicting this isn’t the last the public will hear from Australia’s most high-profile gun-totting southern Nat.