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Sam Dastyari: Luckily For Bridget McKenzie, The Days Of Scandals Ruining Politicians Are Over

There is an old saying: "you can survive anything in politics, except ridicule".

That used to be true. Now in the era of Donald Trump and Boris Johnson, even ridicule won’t even cost you your job.

Bridget McKenzie should be finished. Over. Done.

She will forever be known as the Minister for Sports rorts. Having been caught out using a $100 million sporting grant allowance for pork-barrelling, she’s been given a ‘rotten’ verdict by her own Government auditor.

It's more than enough to finish a career.

The revelation that she even gave money to her own shooting club without declaring an interest should be the final nail in the coffin.

The former Minister for Sports. Image: Facebook

Anthony Albanese was right when he said on Adelaide radio, “This is just a rort. It fails the pub test. It fails every test."

McKenzie's ability to function in the Parliament is effectively over -- she's become little more than a point of ridicule. She should, of course, pull the pin and walk away.

But she won’t.

Politicians never do. They stay. They fight. They squirm. They do everything they possibly can to maintain every last bit of power and influence. It’s the nature of the beast, and the personality trait that gets most politicians there to begin with.

It’s alien to anyone outside the political game. “Can’t they see it’s over?” outsiders wonder.  “Can’t they see how ridiculous they look?” outsiders think.

No, no they can't. That’s what separates them from ordinary folk. That’s what keeps them travelling half the year to Canberra to sit in a Green or Red room and yell at people.

Deep introspection is not a trait known in Australian politics.

So Bridget McKenzie will fight on, for as long as she possibly can.

I understand that trait. I’ve been there. I was the last Australian politician (possibly ever) to pull the pin during a scandal, after realising a political career post-scandal just wasn’t worth it. It was never going to go back to what it was before. You can’t just wait it out and think you can resume your political career -- it’s over. Kaput.

Senator McKenzie can’t resume a normal career, not after this. It wasn’t an obscure matter that is little understood -- it was a rort, which impacted hundreds of sporting clubs in Australia and hundreds of local sporting organisations, made up of mums and dads trying to do their best for their communities.

This rort runs deep in the Australian psyche. After a bushfire season where small Aussie communities -- many of which likely applied for sports funding -- banded together during their darkest hours, it all just reeks.

What makes this different isn’t the scandal -- pork-barrelling isn’t new -- nor is it Bridget McKenzie’s desperate fight for survival. What makes this different is that Scott Morrison isn’t demanding that she quit.

He has announced the head of his department is probing whether McKenzie breached ministerial standards while running the scheme. While I’m not surprised she wants to fight on, I’m amazed Scott Morrison is allowing it -- after the auditor-general's report last week, he should be demanding her resignation.

The PM knows she is finished, whether she keeps the ministerial title or not. Her ability to be effective is now over.

But this is no longer about her -- it’s about the Prime Minister and his refusal to concede anything.

Scott Morrison and Bridget McKenzie address the media in Sydney, November 2017. Image: AAP

Welcome to the Trumpification of Australian politics, or even perhaps the Borisification:  never admit you are wrong, never give an inch to your opponents, obfuscate, fight, burn the village instead of surrendering.

This is what the end of Ministerial standards looks like; the end of Ministerial codes of conduct; the end of taking responsibility and pulling the pin; the end of Harry Truman’s ‘the buck stops here’.

This is something entirely new.

If the Australian public tells its politicians that this is a standard it will now accept, then what are the consequences? How far will elected leaders push the envelope when it comes to rorts?

If all of this looks ridiculous, that’s because it is.

If politicians can survive these kinds of scandals -- if national scorn and ridicule won’t result in accountability, if it won’t cause the Prime Minister to take action -- ask yourself, what will?