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Wren's Week: Bridget McKenzie’s sports rort affair

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The pressure is mounting on Bridget McKenzie over the Government’s sport grant program (Screenshot via YouTube)

As Scott Morrison continues to deal with the bushfire crisis, the extent of Senator Bridget McKenzie's pork-barrelling has been exposed, writes John Wren.

MORE OF A REGULAR COLUMN this week. We’ve had rain across much of eastern Australia which has not extinguished the fires but has substantially contained them. With the decline in fire intensity, the focus of State and Federal governments has, by necessity, been focused primarily on recovery. The Victorian Labor Government has been particularly active, offering to remove razed buildings, rebuilding infrastructure and financial assistance for those affected.

With some of the focus coming off Prime Minister Scott Morrison for the part his negligence played in the fires, we have seen him begin the process of rewriting history. Unquestionably, the majority of Australians blame Morrison for the intensity and scope of the fires. As I wrote here, Morrison’s failure to act on advice, failure to listen to experts, failure to provide adequate firefighting resources and failure to even ensure he was in the country while it went up in flames made the fires much worse than they needed to be.

Morrison has started to spin, with the help of his tame Murdoch media, that the intensity of the fires was due to inadequate fire hazard reduction, that would have been carried out by the states. This is blatant gaslighting and is Morrison quite deliberately trying to shift the public’s perception away from him as the culprit to the respective State governments. It is pure Morrison spin — “Scotty from Marketing” being Scotty from Marketing.

It also suggests, of course, that climate change played little or no part. This is Morrison’s denialism coming through again. Climate change has meant the undergrowth and forest debris, as well as the trees themselves, were tinder-dry and excellent tinder they made as a result. That’s the real reason the fires took off as they did.

Australia saw hundreds of millions of hectares go up in flames. Anybody with a modicum of common sense would see that Morrison’s suggestion that those vast tracts of land undergo hazard reduction burns is sheer folly. Who is going to do it? Much of the land is inaccessible. It’s insane, but let’s not let the facts get in the way of a good story.

So ridiculous is the idea that the Climate Council had to put out a special press release that was specifically titled ‘Setting the Prime Minister Straight on Hazard Reduction’. It’s hard to think of a bigger slap-down than that. The Murdoch crazies, particularly those on Sky News After Dark though, picked up the cudgels and have continued to promote the myth of hazard reduction. Fortunately, fewer and fewer people actually watch their nonsense and the ones who do are largely rusted-on Right-wing loons anyway.

The other issue that was impacting Morrison’s ability to gaslight the states was Senator Bridget McKenzie’s sports rorts affair. This fiasco started way back during the 2019 election campaign when the Liberal Party candidate for Mayo in South Australia and IPA drone, Georgina Downer, was photographed presenting a giant novelty cheque to a local lawn bowls club. The cheque was drawn up as having come from the Liberal Party, even though they were taxpayer’s funds.

Downer was also not the MP. It should have been the incumbent Rebekah Sharkie presenting the cheque. This, of course, raised questions about why Downer was presenting the cheque — apparently Sharkie was not even made aware of the grant at the time. This sparked a formal investigation by the Attorney-General.

The report was finally released a week or so ago with damning conclusions that the then Minister for Sport, Bridget McKenzie, had rorted the system, preferentially allocating funds to marginal seats to assist with the Coalition’s re-election prospects. The grants were meant to be allocated on merit. They weren’t — it was flagrant corruption and a clear breach of ministerial standards.

Bridget McKenzie is the patsy in all this. Her position is untenable. She will be kicked out of Cabinet for it and will spend a year or so on the backbenches being rehabilitated just as Sussan Ley did a few years ago. While McKenzie remains in her role, the Government can’t get any other messages out because of the white noise that the sports rorts affair is generating.

I say McKenzie is the patsy because it has since come out that the rorting was so widespread that many others in the Government must have been in on it. In fact, any Coalition MP who promoted the grants with themselves handing over cheques have now been dragged into the fray — these include Tony Abbott, Tim Wilson, the Attorney-General himself, Christian Porter, Greg Hunt and the Treasurer, Josh Frydenberg.

This list is by no means exhaustive. But wait, there’s more. The expenditure review panel consists of Scott Morrison, Josh Frydenberg and Mathias Cormann. They would have signed off on the payments and, as such, must be party to fraud. It is very likely she was acting under orders from Morrison. The whole corrupt scheme sheets straight back to the Prime Minister’s office. This explains why Morrison has stood by McKenzie. He runs the risk of her taking the whole corrupt house of cards down with her if he terminates her, including him.

The intense scrutiny also revealed that McKenzie had signed off on a $36,000 grant to a gun club she is a member of. Her membership was an “undeclared gift” from the club, which makes it look even worse. One could almost suggest that taxpayers effectively paid $36,000 for her membership. The gun club was the final straw. Channel 10 journalist Peter van Onselen has reported that she had dinner with Morrison, Frydenberg and Deputy PM Michael McCormack in The Lodge recently. It is strongly rumoured she will resign on Friday, no doubt late in the day, before the long weekend (she will take her own garbage out).

McKenzie’s departure will take some heat out of the issue, but it won’t go away. How much did Morrison know? How much of it was his idea? Also, every MP or senator who was seen presenting these cheques is now suspect, as is every MP who has publicly defended McKenzie. If she had done no wrong as they claim, why was she sacked (or forced to tender her resignation)?

In summary, we must all be very grateful to Georgina Downer. After years regurgitating ludicrous IPA policy and two failed attempts at election into Daddy’s old seat, she has finally done something worthwhile for our nation. Georgina’s gormless action at the Yankalilla Bowling Club has shone a massive halogen spotlight onto the systemic corruption within the Coalition. They are a gang of thieves, a rats’ nest with each rat holding Kompromat over each other to ensure mutual destruction if it ever gets revealed.

To quote Obi-Wan Kenobi, “You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy“.

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