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Something stinks in Australia!

By Ross Hamilton

The Hon. Bronwyn Bishop, Speaker of the House of Representatives of the Australian Parliament has previously made it abundantly clear that she has no intention of abiding by the required neutrality of her position. That significant breach of public trust has now been considerably compounded by her recent unacceptable claims of expenditure as electoral business.

On Budget Night 2014, Bishop used the facilities provided to her as Speaker, to conduct a high-priced fundraiser for the Liberal Party of Australia. That this event was approved of by Prime Minister Tony Abbott was proven by Abbott’s attendance at the event. Once news of the event leaked out, Bishop had her office issue a statement declaring that she was only required to be neutral within the House. Leaving aside the matter of her ludicrously partisan behaviour within the House, Bishop made it abundantly clear that she had absolutely no intention of respecting the long-standing convention of neutrality in the Speaker’s position.

It needs to be noted that the role of Speaker is not just restricted to matters arising in the House. The Speaker has a number of important roles regarding all sorts of matters to do with Parliament House and the conduct of parliamentary matters. The speaker is an executive officer of Parliament and is the formal representative of Parliament. As such, the Speaker is required to be impartial in ALL her dealings. Bishop’s unrepentant abuse of that position to raise monies for her political party more than amply demonstrated just what a charade her performance as Speaker has been.

More recently Bishop has come under fire for matters of expenditure as alleged ‘electoral business’ and therefore to be claimed as expenses on the public purse.

The more recent event was the already infamous chartering of a helicopter to travel the short distance from Melbourne to Geelong with a price of over $5,000. The Handbook for Member and Senator Entitlements, available on the Department of Finance website, require two specific qualifiers for such expenditure. Those qualifiers are ‘reasonable’ and ‘defensible’. The helicopter stunt most certainly was not any form of emergency or other such circumstance requiring expensive chartering of a helicopter whereas a hired chauffeur driven luxury vehicle could have made the trip in much the same time for roughly one-fifth of the cost. Consequently the helicopter stunt blatantly fails both tests.

The helicopter stunt demonstrates an even more blatant and fundamental breach. The helicopter was chartered in order for Bishop to merely attend a fund-raising event for the Liberal Party of Australia. Party fundraising is NOT electoral business and as such is not eligible for any claim as a legitimate expense on the public purse. There is absolutely no possibility of this being a simple mistake or accident. Consequently Bishop was guilty of a simply appalling breach of convention and rules regarding expenditure claims. The fact that Bishop had full knowledge that she was attending a party event rather than actual electoral business but went ahead with trying to pretend it was electoral business that the taxpayer had to fund, is so close to actual fraud that it is simply not funny.

The other recent financial scandal was a bill for more than $80,000 incurred during Bishop’s failed bid to win the Presidency of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, an organisation of such vital international importance that hardly anyone has even heard of it. Reports of the expenditure of other delegates on the same trip show them spending in the region of a quarter of Bishop’s bill. And attempting to find herself a nice cushy job outside of parliament is in no possible way a matter of electoral business. Consequently at least a significant part of this expenditure on luxury travel, accommodation and dining is simply not eligible for claiming under electoral expenses. Yet another quite blatant breach. And just as there was no possibility of Bishop accidentally chartering a helicopter, no reasonable person is going to accept that all these bills associated with that job hunting stunt were just accidentally claimed on the public purse.

In the matter of the helicopter, Bishop is now repaying the bill along with a 20% penalty incurred under new provisions instituted in 2013 for inappropriate expenditure claims. Yet Bishop is unrepentant, flatly refusing to admit that she was in the wrong. She is just as unrepentant on the IPU travel matter.

Bronwyn Bishop has repeatedly demonstrated that she has little to no regard for the real obligations of her position. Instead her behaviour is as if she holds a regal position with an accompanying unquestionable divine right to rule and do as she pleases. As such Bronwyn Bishop has more than amply demonstrated that she is simply unfit to be Speaker, one of the highest offices in the nation.

So why is this behaviour allowed to continue? Why won’t our Prime Minister do anything about these repeated appalling abuses of such a senior position and the significant public trust it entails? It’s quite simple. It suits him to have Bishop playing at being Speaker while being blatantly partisan. And why would he take her to task for her financial abuses when he has gotten away with so many disgusting financial abuses of his own with the slate wiped clean simply because he repaid the ill-gotten gains. Have people forgotten that while still in Opposition, Tony Abbott charged the public purse for almost $10,000 in publicity expenses for his then-newly released book? Or having us pay for his travel and accommodation to attend Sophie Mirabella’s wedding? Or paying the bills for him to attend and participate in an Ironman event held in a borderline electorate?

We have a Speaker whose behaviour, it is argued, is now verging on the fraudulent. We have a PM with a questionable record on his own financial dealings refusing to do anything about her. This is all part of a stinking canker at the core of our political system where these holders of high office are simply not properly accountable for their behaviour. For the rest of us, getting caught in such stunts would see us sacked from our jobs and possibly facing criminal prosecution. But not our pollies. Our Federal politicians as an overall class hold themselves above the system of justice and rule of law that applies to those they are supposed to be governing.

To misquote Shakespeare, something stinks in Australia.

This article was first published on Ross’s Rant.

 

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19 comments

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  1. lefturnahead

    Bronwyn Bishop should be the darling of the consevation movement,after all she is a protected species.””

  2. Graeme Rust

    And what do you think of her hiring a maserati for five days at the cost of $5000 ? and a twelve day cruise at a cost of $5000+ ???

  3. mars08

    The Speaker of the House of Representatives can cast a vote in the case of a tie…

  4. eli nes

    surely there are no rules for a speaker? There is an expectation that the speaker maintains the order of the house in a fair manner but that is only an expectation through convention.
    Bronwyn Bias is correctly carrying out her job as the rabbutt directs.
    She carries her single duty to support her leader by punishing labor, at every possible opportunity.
    As “Serving MPs are forbidden from commenting on the performance of the Speaker and can face disciplinary action if they do so.” In the chamber little can be done beyond no confidence motions.
    Non parliamentarians should be attacking her personal greed, at every opportunity, outside the chamber, on the commercial shows.

  5. Rosemary (@RosemaryJ36)

    eli nes:
    http://www.aph.gov.au/About_Parliament/House_of_Representatives/Powers_practice_and_procedure/00_-_Infosheets/Infosheet_3_-_The_Speaker

    There are clear rules. and non-partisanship is clearly included.

    “In representing the House the Speaker represents and is responsible to the House and all of its Members, whether in government or opposition. He or she is not responsible to the Executive Government and seeks to preserve the House’s independence from it.”

    Clearly and regularly breached!

    Bishop blatantly ignores her brief precisely because she is incapable of being non-partisan – which is one reason Abbott chose her for the role.

    ‘Role” is an appropriate term as it implies paying a part which is exactly what she does – only she does not follow the script.

    For all his airs, Slipper was a helluva lot better as a speaker AND he came from the opposition, LNP, side of the house!

    The second reason Abbott chose her is that he could not abide the thought of her as a Minister in view of her previous record but he owed he in light of her length of service.

    I think every non-politician should call for her resignation and all non-LNP MPs should boycott Question Time until she goes.

    It is not even as if they ever get any answers from this government anyway so it has become a total farrce.

    More theatrical acts!

  6. Aortic

    I suspect this may be an inside job. Rupey may have decided she is too much baggage and the heavies of the LNP both past and present have been given instructions to bring her undone. Just a thought.

  7. Peter F

    To add to her woes, she now claims that she signed the form without checking it. This begs the question ‘What would she have done if she HAD checked it, since she claims that it is within the guidelines?. Would she have paid back the money and paid the fine THEN?

    Curioser and curioser. Don’t sack her yet, there could be more.

  8. Pamela

    The behaviour of this mob is beyond contempt. Apart from their snout in trough at every opportunity predeliction, the attitude to truth is what drives me to distraction.
    Since when has it become accepted practice to lie to the nation with impunity. Their spin merchants dredge up an explanation or line of denial whenever tricky questions arise, it is delivered as “truth” and then we move on.

    Part of the problem must fall to the intricate web of relationships between marshmallow political press gallery and politicians. The press gallery tread so softly on their masters, treating their dishonesty as amusing minor discretions, never incisively challenging the lies fished up as excuses.

    Together neither mob serve this nation well. God help us if they get another chance to further destroy any semblance of integrity or justice .

  9. Terry2

    Just be relieved that she didn’t get the Inter – Parliamentary Job job or we would be funding numerous trips for her to attend nonsensical meetings – mainly in upmarket resorts around the world.

    When Labor sought to get Australia a seat on the United Nations Security Council the cries of waste were deafening from the Liberal opposition. But when they assumed office, it was entirely appropriate for Australia to Chair the Security Council and a sign of our maturity as a nation for Julie Bishop to be walking the world stage.

    The Inter – Parliamentary lurk was a blatant waste of taxpayers’ money : it would do nothing to advance the interests of Australia, we all know that.

    Labor should go hard and see this woman removed from the role of Speaker, a role for which she has demonstrated herself as totally unsuited.

  10. Kaye Lee

    Two days before the 2013 Federal election Joe Hockey and Andrew Robb published a media release titled Final update on Federal Coalition Election Policy Commitments. In it they state that the Coalition will achieve “a further 0.25 per cent efficiency dividend on the public service ($428 million) through prudent limitations on Government advertising and consultancies as well as on Government travel.

    http://www.liberal.org.au/latest-news/2013/09/05/final-update-federal-coalition-election-policy-commitments

    Uh huh……

    And it isn’t just the last 6 months of 2014 where Bronnie was living the high life. From October 2013 to the end of June 2014, Bronwyn Bishop claimed $205,026.19 for overseas travel.

    In the six months from January to June 2014, the claims for overseas travel by Tony Abbott, Julie Bishop and Andrew Robb added to $1,185,856.02 – almost $200,000 a month in overseas travel for these three alone.

    In the same six months, Western Australian politicians claimed over $1 million in domestic fares with Michaelia Cash topping the list racking up $72,217.34 – over $12,000 per month in domestic fares.

    Prudent limitations

  11. Terry2

    As most will know, Peter Slipper was cleared of all charges of wrongdoing in the ACT Supreme Court in February 2015 :
    http://www.courts.act.gov.au/supreme/judgment/view/8687/title/slipper-v-turner

    What was, and remains, at issue was the way we define ‘parliamentary business’ and in Slipper’s case it was about car transport but Bronnie’s is much the same principle.

    In the Slipper appeal this evidence was given :

    “Evidence was given by Mr Greg Miles, the Assistant Secretary in the Ministerial and Parliamentary Services Division of the Department as to how the entitlements granted by the Determination were administered:

    Judge: “Now, it’s the case, isn’t it that if a Member of Parliament claims entitlement for travelling on parliamentary business and claims travel for that, they do not generally provide any information to MaPS (Ministerial and Parliamentary Services) about what they are doing on that occasion? … Witness: That’s correct.

    Judge: And there is not a requirement of a Member of Parliament to provide that information? … Witness: No, there is not.”

    There you have it : in any normal business, those claiming expenses must submit all of the invoices, dockets and receipts etc. plus a statement on why, in this context, the expense was incurred and how it relates to “parliamentary business” ; not personal business and not party business.

    According to the above evidence, a politician can just submit the docket, cross his/her fingers and hope that nobody asks any questions : this is unsatisfactory and unprofessional, it encourages people of a certain disposition to nobble the system to their own advantage.

    The rules are inconsistent and contradictory and need to be fixed ; it’s not difficult just do it !

    PS: we should still probably sack Bronwyn , because…………well it’s Bronnie isn’t it.

  12. cuppa

    She’s a nasty piece of work indeed.

  13. flohri1754

    Agree with Terry2 completely …. PLUS would like to see an independent (no ex-politicians involved) Parliamentary Expenses Review Committee to implement clarified and expanded rules AND a Federal ICAC when needed to be called upon …..

  14. crypt0

    Federal ICAC now …
    All those opposed say “Nay” …
    Ah … that accounts for the two major parties.

  15. diannaart

    mars08July 19, 2015 at 8:54 pm

    The Speaker of the House of Representatives can cast a vote in the case of a tie…

    Bronwyn as unprofessional as she is biased. We could just ignore the silly old bint, except her choices in parliament may have long term consequences for Australians.

    Yet…. I sorta, kinda, don’t want her to step down, I want her to be the nail in the Abbottoir’s coffin and evict the entire motley lot of ’em next election.

  16. Anomander

    They earn a truckload of money for their roles. Why don’t they pay for the expenses and then claim them back, once each has been independently scrutinised.

  17. Anomander

    We all know what Abbott’s perception of “pretty clean” is.

    This was the man who thought it was fine to charge his book signing tour to the public purse and for his daughter the get a $60,000 scholarship that was awarded to nobody else.

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