An embattled federal government minister at the centre of a sports grants scandal is doing a damn good job, one of her cabinet colleagues says.
Bridget McKenzie, who doled out $100 million in grants when she was sports minister, has been accused of awarding the money to projects in electorates where the coalition had a slim majority.
However, Nationals frontbencher David Littleproud said he was confident the program was rolled out according to the guidelines, and Senator McKenzie had his full support.
“Of course she does – she’s doing a damn good job,” Mr Littleproud told reporters on Tuesday.
“Now as agriculture minister, moving on from sport into agriculture, she’s doing a damn good job in making sure not only do we continue to grow agriculture but help our agriculture adjust through these tougher times.”
South Australian independent Rebekha Sharkie was excluded from several sports funding announcements as the coalition targeted her seat of Mayo in last year’s election.
“I was a little disappointed that it was prior to the election and I wasn’t included in any announcement,” she told reporters while standing alongside Mr Littleproud.
“I’d like to think that the local federal member can always be included when it’s outside of an election period. I understand when there’s an election on, things are different.
“Right across Mayo we need to upgrade a number of sporting facilities.”
Ms Sharkie’s Centre Alliance party will support a Senate inquiry into the so-called “sports rorts” affair.
An eminent legal expert has suggested the Morrison government’s controversial sports grants program could be unconstitutional.
A report by the auditor-general found Senator McKenzie awarded most of the money to marginal seats being targeted during last year’s election.
Professor Anne Twomey said there appeared to be no basis for the scheme and questioned whether the deputy Nationals leader breached the constitution.
“What is astonishing about the latest sports-rorts affair is its brazenness, culminating in the assertion that ‘no rules were broken’,” Prof Twomey said in the Australian Financial Review.
The professor of constitutional law at the University of Sydney said from a legal perspective there “seem to be at least three areas” in which rules were broken.
Professor Twomey believes the legal obligation on ministers to behave in a procedurally fair manner, Senator McKenzie’s legal ability to make the decisions, and whether or not she breached the constitution are all in question.
Senior Nationals MP Darren Chester welcomed the fact the scheme was now under review.
“The integrity of the way we deliver these types of programs needs to have the transparency that people can have confidence that a fair system is in place,” he told ABC News.
“Because people need to have confidence when they make a bid for a program.
“There have been great deliveries under this program. The question is whether the decisions were based upon merit.”
Senator McKenzie has refused to apologise and Prime Minister Scott Morrison is standing by his embattled colleague.
Labor’s former sports minister Ros Kelly stepped down from the ministry and then parliament in 1995 following a similar scandal.