David Littleproud has rebuked Bridget McKenzie for her handling of the sports grants saga, saying partisan allocation of projects by party representation in marginal seats is not “the best way to do it”.
In a wide-ranging interview with ABC 7.30 the newly elected deputy Nationals leader also defended his record on climate change and advocated for the proposed new Collinsville coal-fired power station in Queensland.
Littleproud, the minister for water resources, drought, rural finance, natural disaster and emergency management, defended Michael McCormack, who survived a challenge from former leader Barnaby Joyce, by suggesting that the whole party, and not just the leader, needed to better articulate its achievements.
He attempted to draw a line under McKenzie’s handling of the $100m sports grants program, which cost her the deputy leadership after a scathing auditor general’s report found that grants were targeted at marginal electorates.
Asked if it was right for the former sports minister to hand grants out according to a spreadsheet colour-coded by the party holding the electorate in which it was located, Littleproud replied: “Well, obviously I don’t think that necessarily getting as partisan as that is the best way to do it.”
Littleproud defended the principle of ministerial discretion, however, warning without it “you may as well let the bureaucrats run” programs which would “not be great for regional Australia in particular”.
“This is Australian taxpayer money, but ultimately every program that Bridget McKenzie funded was eligible and I think we have to understand that and make sure that we understand Bridget didn’t break laws in that.”
Despite the assertion, the auditor-general said it was not evident what McKenzie’s legal authority to hand out grants was and constitutional academics including Anne Twomey have warned the commonwealth may lack power to do so.
Earlier, Littleproud made the pitch for voters in regional and rural areas to vote for the Nationals because of billions injected into programs to alleviate the drought and bushfires.
“What people have to understand is you might get a warm, fuzzy feeling voting for a micro-party, but five minutes later you get a professional complaints desk,” he said.
“[They] won’t be cutting the cheques. We cut the cheques. We’ve done a lot. Do we need to be louder about selling that? Yeah, probably we do.”
Littleproud said that “no-one is disputing” in the National party that climate change is man-made and he had professed doubt because he is “not gifted academically to have that scientific background but I’m trusting the science”.
Asked if the proposed Collinsville coal power station should go ahead, he replied: “Definitely.”
“You can still invest in clean coal technology and reduce emissions,” he said.
“We have to be able to achieve for every household, to be able to turn the lights on and put the air conditioner on.”
Littleproud said it was “premature” to argue the business case was not there for the power plant. He argued Australia is meeting its 2030 greenhouse gas emission reduction targets, which will only be possible due to reductions in emissions made under Labor and carryover credits for over-performance on 2020 targets.
“We’re good global citizens … More than anyone we should be proud of that, rather than belting ourselves up.”