Nationals MP coy about supporting McKenzie

Former sports minister Bridget McKenzie is under pressure for politicising a $100m grants program.
Former sports minister Bridget McKenzie is under pressure for politicising a $100m grants program.

Nationals deputy Bridget McKenzie is becoming increasingly isolated over the deepening sports grants scandal, with partyroom colleagues refusing to stand by her.

Nationals frontbencher Darren Chester is among those who could replace Senator McKenzie if she is sacked from cabinet.

Mr Chester refused to support his partyroom colleague.

"I'm being talked about as someone who might replace her, so it would be fairly churlish of me to be talking about Bridget, whether she has my support or not," he told ABC radio on Wednesday.

"Bridget is a friend of mine - if I say one thing you'll say I'm standing by a friend. If I say the other thing you'll say I'm trying to get a new job.

"So it's best if I let the process take its course."

Nationals leader Michael McCormack is refusing to guarantee his deputy's position, saying he will have to wait and see the outcome of an investigation into her handling of the grants program.

"I'm not really inclined to second guess the process because I think the process has to be left to run its natural course," he told The Australian.

"I don't know where it might go. I guess the secretary of PM&C will get all the evidence before him, weigh all that up, make a determination based on that.

"So I don't really know when or what he will come up with so we will just have to wait and see."

Senator McKenzie is under renewed pressure to quit cabinet after it was revealed she was warned about politicising the $100 million grants scheme when she was sports minister.

The ABC has obtained the spreadsheets used by Senator McKenzie's office to determine which clubs would receive grants, colour-coded by which political party held the seat.

The program heavily favoured marginal and targeted seats before last year's federal election.

Sports Australia staff told Senator McKenzie the organisation's independence was at risk.

It's the latest damaging revelation after a damning auditor-general's report found many of Sport Australia's recommended projects were rejected by the minister.

Mr Chester has been forced to defend a roller derby club in his Gippsland electorate did not receive government funding, despite being ranked 98 out of 100 on the scale of most worthy recipients.

"The greatest deficit we face right now in Australian politics has nothing to do with the budget, it's a deficit in the trust between us ... and the public we represent," he said.

Queensland independent MP Bob Katter says the grants program shouldn't have been used for political reasons.

"If you don't understand, you should get the hell out of cabinet," he told ABC News.

But when pressed on whether Senator McKenzie should lose her job, Mr Katter said he did not believe sacking her was appropriate.

Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet secretary Philip Gaetjens is investigating the scheme to see if ministerial rules were broken.

He's also scrutinising a $36,000 grant Senator McKenzie awarded to a Victorian shooting club to which she belonged.

Australian Associated Press