MUNGO MACCALLUM. Bridget McKenzie and the subversion of public funds.

The Auditor-General’s report left no room for alibis and wriggle room.

So Bridget McKenzie’s well-manicured fingernails have finally been pried from office – but frankly, who cares? Too little, too late.

She was less a dead woman walking than an increasingly noisome corpse waiting for burial, or cremation, or preferably both – dead, buried and cremated as Tony Abbott once said of his own hopes of political resuscitation.

And Abbott should know: it was his stubborn and futile defence of his old (now very much former) colleague Bronwyn Bishop as she became involved in the choppergate scandal of 2015.

In comparison, Bishop’s offence was relatively minor: greed and arrogance, a belief in her entitlement to bend the rules for personal convenience. McKenzie’s malfeasance was far more egregious and deserves to be called actually corrupt – the subversion of public funds to secure party political advantage.

And it was an open and shut case, with a smoking gun still clutched in her own bloody red hands. The Auditor-General’s report left no room for alibis and wriggle room. Delivered by a senior independent body within her own government, the verdict could only be one of capital punishment,

And yet, like Abbott before him, Scott Morrison thought he could spin his way out of trouble with nearly three agonizing weeks of increasingly incredible justifications, distractions, and downright absurdities – the one about saving the girls from having to change behind the shed, when the girls’ team had already been dissolved, was the most parodic.

In the end, Morrison and McKenzie. like Abbott, had to fall back on the old and totally discredited line: she didn’t actually break any rules. To which every punter in every pub will reasonably reply that if she didn’t – and this is still dubious — then the rules are a farce and a scam themselves.

The public, and not just who have been dudded over their hard fought grants approved by the Sports Commission – and there are plenty of those – know damn well that if they are caught by the smallest discrepancy from the government, whether for the Tax Office or Centrelink, they will be smashed, humiliated, stripped of their supposedly immoral earnings and subjected to stringent penalties.

McKenzie, who was caught misappropriating more than $100 million, was not only exonerated but applauded for delivering a program praised, unsurprisingly, by the lucky winners in the marginal seats. Her situation was, as everyone, including Morrison, realized, untenable.

So he appointed a hand-picked bureaucratic crony to do the execution he lacked the guts to perform himself. And unsurprisingly, Phil Gaetjens came up with an anodyne finding that allowed McKenzie to resign while absolving the government of any guilt over the main issue. The auditor-general was effectively thrown under a bus. Morrison saved face, but lost any semblance of integrity and credibility in the process.

So why did he expend so much of his diminishing stock of political capital in thrashing around inside the killing bottle? Presumably because sacking her was too hard. Not just because she is a Nat, and her embattled party leader Michael McCormack, was desperate not to lose her support, but perhaps also because she knew how much his own office had been conniving and co-operating in the rort.

The chance of a quick, clean, kill to cut short the infection quickly past; and constant leaking of new atrocities, many rumoured to be coming from within her own ranks, possibly involving the still ambitious Barnaby Joyce, would not abate until she was finally put down.

But. as with Abbott and Bishop, it was too little and too late. The damage has already been done. The only question is how long and how far it spreads.

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14 Responses to MUNGO MACCALLUM. Bridget McKenzie and the subversion of public funds.

  1. Rosemary O'Grady says:

    Not forgetting the $34,000? billed for a stopover in SA by WA Senator Mathias Korman?
    This ‘break-the-rules’ narrative, and similar language on-show at the Royal Commission into Police Management of Information ( current, Melbourne – Lawyer ‘X’) elides the truth in that what is actually here, there & everywhere is a destruction of the rules of administrative law (ie the rules of official decision-making – aka fairness: aka the rule of law: nobody is above it not even the Executive/Sovereign). Market-driven political parties just ignore the rule of law and whilst allowing that there are ‘ministerial guidelines’ (self-created) they have no comment upon the laws and customs of centuries of common law and the concepts – painfully-developed – of fairness. I am afraid they don’t know much about what they are (supposed to be) doing there. There is bias, and it’s against the law if you are a decision-maker. There is the rule that nobody may be a judge in his/her own cause: it’s illegal in a decision-maker – and just how important it is may be seen if one delves into the history of judges and sees that there were, only a century or two ago, blatant violations of these rules ( some judges – famous ones- would not accept a case absent a hefty bribe!) We are supposed to have progressed and to adhere to a rule of law which outlaws such practices. We are meant to be, all of us, equal before/under the law… Seriously?

  2. Allan Kessing says:

    Thus far McKenzie has remained relatively silent on the entire farrago – shades of Moscow show trial self criticism, “I erred.”
    Has she been promised some post politics sinecure – beyond the usual boardroom seats traditional for gNats?
    The real question though is “what didn’t Morrison know and when didn’t he know it?”

  3. James O'Neill says:

    For me, one of the sorriest parts of the disgraceful saga was, as you so accurately put it, “the auditor-general was effectively thrown under a bus.” That politicians use public funds for party political gain is no surprise. One reason for the relative quietness of the Labor Party to date. What was really damning in this current episode was the behaviour of the prime minister whose performance at the Press Club dinner was the sorry shambles of half truths and prevarication that has been his hallmark since being elected to office. To borrow from Shakespeare, who will rid us of this troublesome priest?

    • Richard Ure says:

      Half truths? “(in overriding the Sports’ Commission choices) the government was not motivated by political considerations” Nothing half about that in the absence of information about what the government DID consider.

  4. Terry Moloney says:

    It’s worth reminding ourselves that Senator McKenzie charged the revenue $534 000 to move her office from the relatively safe seat of Bendigo to Indi which the government hoped to win on the retirement oh Cathy McGowan.

  5. John O"Callaghan says:

    McKenzie should do a Barnaby and do a book about wrought iron,she can call it the Wrought Iron Rort.

  6. Prosecution under the Criminal Codes Section 142.2(1) – abuse of public office?

    This is the responsibility of the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions:

    https://www.cdpp.gov.au/crimes-we-prosecute/general-prosecutions

    Of does the Goverment for the Commonwealth of the People of Australia require a Commonwealth Integrity Commission for action to be taken?

  7. Rex Williams says:

    “Morrison saved face, but lost any semblance of integrity and credibility in the process.”

    Sadly, both integrity and credibility left PM Morrison some time ago. Giving him the benefit of the doubt, perhaps he may have displayed such admirable characteristics in another life, a very long time ago but almost immediately after he highjacked the #1 spot during the Turnbull dismissal machinations, his statements and actions have made the people wonder if they were ever there.

    But the most distressing fact remains that his whole team offers so little to admire as to personal or professional qualities. The handling of the Religious Discrimination Bill, for example, a veritable sideshow. Mckenzie and her corrupt antics, deserving a public sacking.

    This is a nothing government. They will achieve nothing and the damage they can do before they can be replaced is frightening. Another US ‘do-what-you’re-told-come-and-join-us’ hegemonic war, somewhere (we are involved in three right now), an Australian dollar at 58 cents US (with the enthusiastic support of the Reserve Bank), unemployment soon to be the worst in history and a cost of living already up 10% since Morrison emerged, with some ways to go in spite of announcements to the contrary. Go and buy some lamb chops, a piece of Scotch fillet and even the mainstay chicken breasts, bananas, lettuce, et al, up in the last 14 days. Would he notice anything like this in The Lodge? Hardly.
    Salaries and wages…still the same, four years on. But can we rely on our opposition? Same policies and enjoying a peaceful existence on the other side of the house. The ‘mirror image’ LNP.

    So, credibility across the board? Zero.

  8. Felix MacNeill says:

    It depends on whether or not anyone still actually cares about honesty, legality and integrity – even simple reality for that matter – or whether we’ve already crossed the Trump Event Horizon into a Hobbesian post-everything hate field…
    And the trouble is that those who did and do care about daggy, unprofitable stuff like honesty, legality and integrity weren’t really fooled anyway, and this would only have served as a surfeit of proof of what they already knew.

  9. Myopia says:

    According to Ann Twomey, yes MacKenzie did break the rules and almost certainly acted illegally.

    https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-02-02/bridget-mckenzie-sport-grants-minister-rules/11922152

    • Richard Ure says:

      Where does this leave responsibility for the disbursed funds? Was Cabinet a link in the chain? What happens when the law is simply ignored?

  10. John Thompson says:

    It seems to me that the person who has been wounded as much as Morrison is Gaetjens – unless his advice to Morrison is made public and can explain why the Auditor General’s report is deficient. If his advice is restricted to only that information provided by Morrison’s press statements, Australia’s most senior public servant will be suspect from now on. And, of course, the damage that Morrison has done to the Auditor General is very significant and should be addressed.

  11. Mike Yewdall says:

    Is it any wonder that Morrison lauds the quiet Australians. he can’t handle questions of any depth and his responses are always hostile. The accountability that he promised after the election never looked like appearing. His constant references to Labor’s debt is after seven years of LNP government is a ploy to distract from his own lack of policy. Morrison is becoming a caricature of a PM. The lack of response to the sports rorts is indicative of his lack of direction and a demonstration of his inability to think in anything other than terms of political survival. Bugger the country.

  12. Richard Ure says:

    Will the kill be considered quick and clean as long as the Gaetjens report and the advice of the Attorney General remain hidden from full view? Her wasteful use of travel entitlements seems to have been (temporarily) overshadowed by the smell of electoral preferment issue. Does the Commonwealth government even have a sports power under the Constitution?

    During the Press Gallery appearance, the PM said the changes from Sports Association decisions were not based on electoral considerations. But he did not say what different considerations were brought to bear by the minister nor what the function of the coloured columns in the spreadsheet was.

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