Bridget McKenzie has spoken out after falling on her sword over the sports grants scandal. But it’s what she didn’t say that spoke volumes.
Bridget McKenzie has spoken out after falling on her sword over the sports grants scandal. But it’s what she didn’t say that spoke volumes.

What McKenzie failed to say in signing off

SENATOR Bridget McKenzie has spoken out after falling on her sword over the $100 million sports grant scandal - and has failed to voice support for Nationals leader Michael McCormack as talk of a spill gains momentum.

Senator McKenzie said she took responsibility for breaching ministerial standards when sport minister by failing to declare membership of two clubs for which she approved grants - but insisted there was no conflict of interest.

"I took that step (resignation) because I accept that my failure to declare my membership to certain sports shooting clubs in a timely manner constituted a breach of the ministerial standards and that is something I take very, very seriously," she said.

"I do not accept that those memberships were a conflict of interest; I received no personal benefit, they did not inform my decision making at all."

Senator McKenzie has been accused of pork-barrelling by allocating grants to marginal Coalition electorates.

She did not rule out a return to the ministry in the future.

The senator said it had been an honour to be the country's first female agriculture ninister, and she hoped she would not be the last.

Senator Bridget McKenzie addresses a media conference this morning after resigning from the ministry. Picture: Gary Ramage
Senator Bridget McKenzie addresses a media conference this morning after resigning from the ministry. Picture: Gary Ramage

Senator McKenzie would not be drawn on leadership speculation surrounding Barnaby Joyce, but did not express support for Mr McCormack.

She said she did not talk about party room matters.

"There's one vacancy tomorrow. In true National Party fashion I'm sure there will be a Melbourne Cup field of candidates," Senator McKenzie said.

Meanwhile, under-siege Mr McCormack claims he has overwhelming majority support of his colleagues, after Mr Joyce revealed this morning he would stand for leadership if a spill is called.

Mr McCormack, who has been privately criticised by some colleagues for being too invisible in the role, said there was no challenge to his leadership.

Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack does not expect a Nationals leadership spill as Barnaby Joyce reveals he will challenge.
Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack does not expect a Nationals leadership spill as Barnaby Joyce reveals he will challenge.

"Barnaby Joyce says he will stand if a spill is called. No spill has been called and I'm not expecting one," he said.

"I'm sure Barnaby is ready to be leader of the party should there be a spill called, but there has been no spill called.

"There's no vacancy for the leadership position. I am the leader of the party, I have the party support and more over I'm out there delivering for regional Australia.

"I have the overwhelming majority support in the party room."

He said people in regional Australia did not care about the machinations of the Nationals.

"We should concentrate on what matters to most of the Australian people, that's coronavirus, that's drought, that's bushfires and the overall economy," Mr McCormack said.

A party room meeting to decide the party's deputy leader will be held tomorrow at 9am, but there is growing talk a wider leadership spill for the Nationals will be called.

Victorian MP Darren Chester has ruled out running, throwing his weight behind Mr McCormack to keep the top job.

The Veterans Affair Minister had been considered one of the top contenders for the job, but his withdrawal increases Queensland MP David Littleproud's chances to become deputy leader.

"Some colleagues have put up their hand for the deputy role, I won't be one of those," Mr Chester said.

He said he backed Mr McCormack to stay in the top job and insisted he was "absolutely safe".

"Michael McCormack has worked tirelessly since he's taken on the leadership last couple of years," Mr Chester said.

"He's done a good job in very difficult circumstances.

"In terms of what Barnaby's aspirations might be, he can speak for himself. I don't share those aspirations."

He said he had not sought any deals to enter the Cabinet, but flagged an interest in the emergency management portfolio, currently held by Mr Littleproud.

"I can assure you I haven't sought a Cabinet position, I haven't sought to make a deal. My job right now is to focus on the recovery of my community," he said.

"I have another role right now as Veterans and Defence Personnel Minister. I would like to take a national role in emergency management in the future as well using practical on the ground experience from Gippsland."

Senator Bridget McKenzie's resignation opens up a position for a Victorian Nationals MP in the Cabinet.

Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese said the latest leadership turmoil showed the Coalition was "just about themselves".

"The idea that they're contemplating bringing Barnaby Joyce back as deputy prime minister shows just how low they have sunk," he said.

"It's quite bizarre that Barnaby Joyce could be considered as a future deputy prime minister.

"As a former deputy prime minister, Barnaby Joyce's presence there devalued the currency and I don't want to see that happen again."

Mr Albanese called for the Morrison Government to release the Gaetjens report into the $100 million sports grant scandal, which saw Nationals deputy leader Bridget McKenzie resign last night.

He also confirmed Labor would still seek to establish a Senate inquiry into the program, despite the Minister falling on her sword.

"Anyone who is concerned about the expenditure of taxpayer funds will vote for that inquiry," he said.



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