Where does Bridget McKenzie's resignation leave the Coalition parties?

Picture: James Wiltshire
Picture: James Wiltshire

With the resumption of Federal Parliament this week, it was widely anticipated that the Bridget McKenzie sports rorts saga needed to be dealt with to give the government some respite after months of negative publicity.

It's not that McKenzie's resignation was a surprise. What is surprising is that the report by the head of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Phil Gaetjens, did not support allegations that the funding grants - overseen by the then minister - were politically biased.

There appeared to be clear evidence that the funding grants were targeted at marginal Coalition held seats, and seats the government hoped to win from Labor, with the Auditor-General's report claiming that there was "distribution bias" in the allocation of funds to sporting clubs.

The government has said it will not release the Gaetjens report, but McKenzie resigned because Gaetjens found that she had not declared membership of a gun club which received funding.

So, now that McKenzie has gone, where does this leave both the Nationals and Liberals?

Barnaby Joyce has made a bad situation all the more difficult for the Nationals by stating that he would be a leadership aspirant if there was a spill. Clearly this is mischief making, because if Joyce had the numbers he could bring on the spill himself. Indeed, if he had the numbers, he would already be leader.

After doing surprisingly well in last year's federal election, the Nationals have been wracked by internal dissent over both personalities and policy direction. Many in the party believe that McCormack has been too close to the Liberals and has not forged a more independent vision for the junior Coalition partner.

With the new parliamentary session having commenced, the task for the government now is to attempt to put the very damaging self-imposed mistakes of the past months behind it and re-focus on the economy, which is facing threats from the impact of the fires and the coronavirus on top of already softening economic conditions.

Scott Morrison's personal standing has taken a battering, and this is now being reflected in the polls with Labor's Anthony Albanese's personal ratings surging.

Morrison's image has been seriously damaged and it will take more than glib marketing slogans to turn this around.

This parliamentary session will see a rejuvenated Labor Party, keen to make the government pay for its recent disorder.

Ian Tulloch is an honorary associate in politics at La Trobe University