Bridget McKenzie’s political future is under siege with Labor leader Anthony Albanese, independent MP Zali Steggall and One Nation leader Pauline Hanson all calling for the deputy Nationals leader to resign.
Senator Hanson, The Greens and Centre Alliance have offered to support a Senate inquiry into the community sport infrastructure grant program, which saw $100 million worth of funds largely directed to marginal marginal and in-doubt coalition seats ahead of the federal election.
Ms Steggall, who deposed former prime minister Tony Abbott in the former safe Liberal seat of Warringah at last year’s federal election, said the coalition’s politicisation of a $100 million community sports grant program was “disgusting”.
An independent review found Senator McKenzie’s office awarded most of the grants to seats being targeted by the coalition during the election last year.
Senator McKenzie is refusing to apologise, insisting no rules were broken.
“She’s completely lost if she doesn’t think she needs to acknowledge that there’s something wrong with cheating kids and community sports clubs … I just think it’s disgusting,”Ms Steggall told ABC radio on Friday.
Her criticism came as the Australian Financial Review reported that the Mosman Rowing Club in Mr Abbott’s then-seat of Warringah received a $500,000 grant, the maximum allowable under the program.
It was wonderful to welcome @senbmckenzie to the Mosman Rowing Club down at the Spit. By investing $500,000 in the Mosman Rowing Club, we're helping the great sport of rowing across our country… pic.twitter.com/wBROWXUX9j
— Tony Abbott (@HonTonyAbbott) April 24, 2019
“By investing $500,000 in the Mosman Rowing Club, we’re helping the great sport of rowing across our country,” Mr Abbott posted on Twitter on April 24.
“And that’s what a good government does. It invests judiciously in important community facilities, and in doing so it helps our community to be even better.”
The funding was reportedly used to build new boat racks and to extend its pontoon.
An independent audit into the funding was called by Labor after Liberal candidate Georgina Downer doled out a $127,000 cheque for a local bowling club in South Australia as part of the program during the election campaign.
Nine of the 10 electorates approved to receive the most money were either marginal seats or ones being eyed by the coalition.
These seats would have received less funding if Sports Australia merit assessments had been used.
More than 60 per cent of applications were funded despite not reaching the necessary assessment score.
Nine of the 10 electorates that received the least funding were Labor seats and “safe” government seats.
Mr Albanese said it was “extraordinary and unprecedented” that Liberal candidates Ms Downer in the independent-held seat of Mayo and Angela Owen in Labor MP Graham Perrett’s seat of Moreton were given oversized cheques to present as if they were responsible for the grant while local MPs were cut out of announcements.
“This is just a disgrace,” he told reporters in Sydney.
“What we have seen is a government that is arrogant, in the lead-up to the federal election, used taxpayers’ money as if it was Liberal and National Party funding,” the Opposition Leader said.
“The truth is that [Ms McKenzie’s] position is untenable as a minister.”
Ms Hanson told the ABC Ms McKenzie used the sports funding as “f
Senator McKenzie found support from frontbench colleague Peter Dutton who said she shouldn’t have to resign.
“None of those clubs that received that money have been found ineligible,” Mr Dutton told channel Nine’s Today show.
The Home Affairs Minister’s stance was met by an incredulous response from Today host Karl Stephanovic.
“That’s not the point,” Stefanovic replied.
“The point is that nine of the 10 electorates awarded the most money were either marginal seats or ones the Coalition were hoping to win,” he said.
“I mean, that is a damning figure. That is pork-barrelling of the highest order. It’s been stacked.”