Sports rorts minister tipped to quit within days
Embattled Agriculture Minister Bridget McKenzie looks set to resign within days, with the Coalition keen to head into the new Parliamentary year next week with the sports rorts scandal behind it.
The Victorian Senator and Deputy Leader of the Nationals was on Friday night refusing to go until she saw the results of an inquiry by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet Secretary Phil Gaetjeans.
The Gaetjeans report, due to be handed to Prime Minister Scott Morrison as early as Saturday, will determine whether Senator McKenzie breached ministerial standards when she used a $100 million taxpayer-funded sports grant program to pork-barrel Coalition and targeted seats.
While both Labor and Coalition governments have long used such funds to pork-barrel, Senator McKenzie's blatant use of the program, in which recommendations by the independent Sports Australia were ignored and money diverted to crucial seats ahead of the election, has been strongly criticised by the federal Auditor-General.
Despite strong rumours sweeping Canberra on Friday night that she was taking soundings from her Nationals colleagues about resigning, a source close to Senator McKenzie said she had not made a decision and was waiting for the Gaetjeans report.
The nation's most senior public servant is expected to hand the report over as early as Saturday.
There was a suggestion the report may not be handed down at all if Senator McKenzie resigned first, but that seems unlikely.
If she does resign as expected this week, the Government will be hoping it draws a line under the affair, which has seen Senator McKenzie go to ground for more than a week, and Liberal and Nationals MPs bombarded with angry calls and emails from community groups upset their grant applications were rejected.
However, scrutiny will continue on what level of involvement the Prime Minister's Office had, with several advisers known to have been in constant contact with Senator McKenzie's office about the handling of the grants.
One source noted that if Senator McKenzie goes quietly, the 50-year-old could potentially resume her ministerial career several years into the future.
Both Sussan Ley and Stuart Robert were forced to resign as ministers in recent years - Ms Ley after a travel expenses scandal and Mr Robert for travelling to China to help a friend and donor sign a mining deal - but both have returned to the Morrison ministry.
Her resignations will trigger a round of positioning within the Nationals, with the need to replace a Cabinet minister, a Leader in the Senate and the Deputy Leader of the party.