It is a basic principle of good governance that ministers must not be able to take decisions which benefit themselves or their families personally. It is not OK for ministers, for instance, to have the final say on planning decisions that affect the value of their houses or on coal mines under their farms. That is why government regulations establish elaborate procedures for disclosing such conflicts of interest and handing the decision to an independent third party.
That is what makes then sports minister Bridget McKenzie’s decision to grant $36,000 to the Wangaratta Clay Target Club so disappointing. As The Age revealed on Wednesday, despite being a member of the club, Senator McKenzie failed to either formally declare a conflict or involve a third party. The case is unfortunately just one of many questionable decisions taken by Senator McKenzie in handing out cash from the $100 million Community Sports Infrastructure Fund. We have also revealed that she approved a $147,000 grant to a country football club where the son of Nationals leader Michael McCormack had a leading role.
Senior Coalition figures say support is rapidly eroding within the federal government for Senator McKenzie, who is now Agriculture Minister, with Nationals MPs canvassing whether she can survive in her role. Prime Minister Scott Morrison has asked the nation’s top bureaucrat to review whether she has breached ministerial standards.
It emerged last night that Senator McKenzie had told reporters at the time she announced the grant to the Wangaratta Clay Target Club in February last year that she was a member.