This could well be wishful thinking on my part, however…
Yesterday, as I watched the anointing of the new Speaker of the House of Representatives, I could have sworn I saw in the face and body of Prime Minister Tony Abbott the sullen demeanour of a whipped cur, already plotting his devious revenge.
It seemed to me that in his petulant insistence on yet again prime ministerially exonerating ex-Speaker Bronwyn Bishop of what is potentially criminal behaviour (if anyone ever bothers to seriously direct their investigation in that direction) Abbott reinforced his profound political and emotional identification with Ms Bishop, and his outrage that for a mere mistake or two she has been so ignominiously ejected from the Chair, only to land on her corseted arse in the back benches where she can surely have very few friends.
Abbott is given to prime ministerial exonerations of his mouldy mates. Rather like the Pope speaking ex cathedra, once Abbott has written a character reference or stated in Parliament or out of it that you’re an all right fellow or gal, any formal performance of justice is in his opinion rendered unnecessary, and the courts merely unbelieving saboteurs, damn their eyes.
Bishop was Abbott’s Captain’s pick for the prestigious position of Speaker. This time Abbott was just another party member, and it is rumoured that he isn’t too chuffed about his party’s choice, Tony Smith. This must be a bitter pill for the authoritarian PM to swallow, after all, this is the second time in six months he’s been forcibly reminded that he isn’t a party of one supported by a few potentially duplicitous but for the time being supportive henchmen and women.
In other words, this is the second time in six months the PM has been put in his place by his party and as he sat in the House glowering while the new Speaker promised fairness and admitted to friendships on the other side, Abbott’s lips closed so tight I thought he’d surely swallowed them. The man has little control over his facial expressions and his body language. I’m stout of heart, but there are times when the barely repressed dark fury that emanates menacingly from his physical being almost scares me.
I am slightly heartened by Abbott’s capitulation to public opinion and the demands of his party. Another Captain’s pick for Speaker, or anything much else given the disastrous nature of every pick thus far, may well bring him entirely undone. The man has a tin ear. He is tone-deaf. He is wilfully ignorant. He has an ideological agenda, and lacks the intelligence or the desire to understand its limitations. Like every crazed ideologue, he believes he can force others to adopt his beliefs, simply by the relentless exertion of his will. He runs the country like an old-style priest runs a parish, sermonising to the flock at every opportunity from a position of steadfast denial of reality.
But reality bites, and I dare to hope it has begun to nibble at the PM’s quite remarkable capacity for obduracy. He and Bishop are a perfect match (the expressions on both faces were eerily similar, the grim, thin-lipped smile, the coldly enraged eyes) and that is no recommendation for the character of a Prime Minister. I dare to believe that the majority of the Coalition are not on the same page as either Bishop or Abbott, and that they are, at long last, prepared to take a stand for something more evolved than rampant self-interest.
But hey, what do I know? Like everybody else, I can only live in despair, mitigated by the occasional flash of hope. Hold on, sisters and brothers, and trust in hubris and the karma bus.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott today absolves his “political mother” Bronwyn Bishop from all wrong doing:
What has become apparent, particularly over the last few days, is that the problem is not any particular individual; the problem is the entitlement system more generally,” he said.
“We have a situation where spending is arguably inside the rules, but plainly outside of community expectations, and that’s what needs to be dealt with once and for all.
Surely it is not too much to expect that politicians will exercise ethical and moral judgement sufficient to contain their expenses within “community expectations,” aka the “sniff test?”
Obviously it is, as has been so spectacularly brought to our attention by the revelation of decades of indulgence and extravagance practiced by Bishop, who seems to be enchanted by the fantasy that she is a reincarnation of Marie Antoinette.
I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m over Tony Abbott’s sophistry, his constant use of specious and fallacious argument to deceive and obfuscate. If Bishop hasn’t done anything wrong, why has she resigned, and why has Abbott accepted her resignation? If Bishop is a victim of the system, as Abbott apparently alleges, why did she have to go?
And how can Abbott and his henchmen and women expect to escape charges of hypocrisy when the comparison is noted between the excuses made for Bishop, and the ruthless hounding of “particular individual” former Speaker Peter Slipper, over less than $1000 abuse of travel expenses? Slipper made a number of attempts to resolve his matter administratively, that is, to pay the money back, as does everybody else, but these attempts were thwarted and he found himself in court.
Will we see Bronwyn Bishop in court over her outrageous excesses? If not why not?
Abbott’s attempts to spin Bishop as a victim of a system that allows politicians far too much leeway is adding insult to injury as far as the electorate is concerned. Bishop’s sense of entitlement and privilege allowed her to abuse the system to such an extraordinary degree: she is not the system’s victim, she is a practised exploiter who would have continued her exploitative practices until the day she expired, if she hadn’t been caught.
Bronwyn Bishop loves the Australian people, she claims in her resignation statement. So why did she squander so much of the people’s money, and why has it taken her this long to express remorse, and sod off?
In case you are still in any doubt about what matters and what doesn’t to the Anglo-Saxon hegemony think on this: white Speaker of the House of Representatives and Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s personal pick Bronwyn Bishop remains in charge of the House, in spite of decades of financial abuse of taxpayer funds, the obscene details of which are unfolding daily before our disbelieving eyes. The only thing that keeps her in her job is Abbott’s support, because while the Prime Minister cannot actually sack a Speaker, there’s little doubt that if Abbott pressured her to get on her bike, she’d be mad not to obey.
On the other hand, Indigenous football star and Australian of the Year Adam Goodes has been driven from his sport and public life by unrelenting racist attacks every time he shows his face. Goodes’ reaction to a thirteen-year-old girl calling him an ape has been held up by the racist commentariat such as Alan Jones and Andrew Bolt as being the reason footy crowds have taken such a set against him. However, it seems to have escaped the commentators’ collective memory that it was in fact the illustrious Eddie Maguire who at the same time called Goodes “King Kong.”
What also seems to have escaped their racist filter is that Goodes did not know at the time that a young girl was responsible for calling him an ape, and when he did become aware of this he handled the situation admirably, meeting with the girl and her mother, and engaging them in conversation about the wounding and divisive nature of racist insults.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott, normally a man with an opinion on everything no matter how irrelevant, remains conspicuously silent on both matters. Ms Bishop’s shenanigans with helicopters and luxury limos have left rotten egg splattered all over Tony’s face, an ungracious response on her part to the man who, when he won government, rewarded her with the prestigious job of Speaker. Getting rid of Bronwyn will cause Tony to lose egg-splattered face, as it will be an admission of his lack of judgement of a woman he’s known for decades, and indeed, has been heard to refer to as his “political mother.”
But as Freud would have it, an adult man must at some point cut ties with his mother, and this could be Tony’s moment to sever the umbilical cord.
Abbott apparently can’t say anything on the Goodes’ matter either, given his demographic is fundamentally xenophobic and racist, and he can’t risk alienating them. While the country engages in a national conversation about racism, our leader remains unacceptably silent, missing in action. While the indignation and outrage at Bishop’s fraudulent behaviour escalates, our leader remains silent, missing in action. The number of topics Abbott can publicly engage with seems to be shrinking daily: he certainly seems incapable of entering into the energetic debates that will shape and reshape our nation in a most concrete fashion. In other words, he’s useless.
Ideology can do that to a man. Render him useless.
The Bronwyn Bishop saga continues and deepens. At the same time another pitiful effort is uncovered, writes Ross Hamilton.
The subject of whether or not Bronwyn Bishop had abused her expenditure in any sort of criminal matter was referred to the Australian Federal Police. Just as the matter of former Speaker Peter Slipper’s potential abuse of taxi charge vouchers was investigated by the AFP. However whereas the AFP continued to investigate the Slipper matter rather than send it to the Department of Finance for investigation under the Minchin Protocols, in the Bishop matter, which concerns thousands of dollars rather than hundreds, the matter has indeed been tossed back to DoF. And anyone who thinks this matter shall be getting a genuine hearing under the notoriously infamous Liberal-Party-friendly DoF Secretary, Jane Halton. Her role in the Babies Overboard drama is well recorded. Add to the recipe a nasty piece of work as Minister of Finance, Mathias Cormann, who, judging by his track record, shall merely somehow turn this into another reason to shrilly scream about ‘Labor’s Debt and Deficit Disaster’. By the way – there is a photograph doing the rounds of the Internet claiming Halton to be a Liberal staffer. Sorry – incorrect. Better than that, she is a conveniently placed Department Secretary.
Her Royal Highness Queen-bee Bishop has now admitted to another two recent taxpayer-funded trips to fundraisers for the Liberal Party and its associates. And she is equally adamant that these trips are part of her official role as she attended in her position as Speaker of the House of Representatives.
Enter Peter Costello, stage right. And Costello is not someone I normally find myself in agreement with. But Costello has pointed out the fatal flaw in HRH’s argument. By her logic as a Member of Parliament, you can turn up anywhere, mention politics and bingo – the taxpayer coughs up the bill. An MP wants a boozy afternoon down the pub? Easy – head down to the bar and mention politics – the Dept of Finance has to cough up for your tab. Ditto luxury cruises. Ditto pretty much anything else you can think of. And naturally that is complete nonsense and decidedly not what electoral expenses are about. Her Majesty’s defense is looking increasingly dodgy.
So who is it that decides what are generally legitimate expenses for the pollies? Answer: the Parliamentary Entitlements Review Committee (PERC). The PERC comes up with and modifies the necessary rules. And a prominent member is Professor Allan Fels. The Prof entered the fray today. He admits that the Committee reviewed the Entitlements in 2010 and confirmed that travel for party business or party functions is outside eligibility as electoral expenses. So you would think that the Entitlements Handbook says so. And you would be wrong. The Prof expains: “I don’t think it’s set out that clearly [in the rules], but it is well understood.” Ahhh so there you go. So long as it is known to be unacceptable then nobody will do it, will they? Just as everyone knows that robbing banks is unacceptable so nobody has ever done it. Right?
Prof Fels and PERC had a golden opportunity to clarify this position and rule appropriately five years ago and thus put some real pressure on the pollies, not to mention a chance of trying to get some independent audit happening, but did not do so for what can only be described as stupid and childish reasoning.
Now we come to the even more unexpected development. In my opinion, Andrew Bolt is an absolute disgrace and vile presence within the Australian journalistic ranks hence my usual description of him as The Blot. I have never watched his television program and it is a rare event for me to ever read any of his columns. But late this afternoon I found myself down town with a bit of free time. The newsagent did not have the newspaper I wanted so I settled for Victoria’s Herald Sun. And found myself reading Bolt’s column. And what a serve both Bishop and Abbott get. If anything, he’s harder on her than I am. So in a way that gives me something else to be cranky with HRH about – putting me on the same side as The Blot in anything.
HRH Bishop continues to insist that her travel expenditure was legitimately within the guidelines. In fact the reality is that it is not explicitly banned. And for that we can blame Professor Fels and co. However we still go back the qualifiers that are in the Handbook – the necessity for claims to be ‘defensible’ and ‘reasonable’. And chartering helicopters for an 80km jaunt to raise a few more shekels for the Liberal Party of Australia easily fails both tests.
Tony Abbott has made his position clear. He is not taking any action against his handpicked Speaker. The most he has done is say that Bishop is now on probation. Now we all now that Tone sometimes struggles with words and even once famously admitted that you cannot trust everything he says. However is he really so hard of understanding that he really does think Bronwyn Bishop has apologised. Because she has not. Not even close. In fact, just the reverse as Her Majesty has made it very clear that she is NOT going to apologise.
Frankly, Abbott, you have two choices:
sack Bronwyn Bishop from the Speaker’s position and retain what little remaining credibility your government may have; OR
leave Bronwyn Bishop in her position thereby giving your stamp of approval to proliferate waste, abuse of expenditure and to a Speaker who has broken seemingly every single convention regarding the position of Speaker of the House of Representatives, bringing the position about as low as is possible.
Is Tony Abbott really so stupid as to leave Bronwyn Bishop in her position as Speaker? Sadly, yes.
Yet again I come back to what is the real core problem – the complete lack of any meaningful arbiter over individual expenditure items. In the Peter Reith telephone card scandal about twenty years ago, we saw that the Department of Finance simply pays up on bills sent to the by the pollies, no questions asked. Nothing has changed. The only body that could have tightened things up, the Parliamentary Entitlements Review Committee, simply did not bother to by the childish notion that everyone knows that party business is not an electoral expense so won’t charge such to expenses. Bronny sure sank that idea. And I have no doubt whatsoever that plenty more have done so as well. The single biggest problem is that the only actual arbiter of what politicians can go claiming as expenses are the politicians themselves, hence the title of this piece (Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? – Who will guard the guards themselves?) on my own site. Indeed, who is going to guard the pollies against them rorting expenditure? Nobody. Instead the Minchin Protocols exist in order to help bury any wrongdoing. Until such time as we have a proper set of guidelines and, more importantly, a meaningful audit function, our Federal politicians are going to continue to get away with ripping us off. And this Bishop affair is simply putting an approval stamp on politicians using pathetic word games to get away unscathed.
This article was first published on Ross’s Rant as Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? and has been slightly edited from the original. Ross can also be found hanging out at WordsbyRoss. If you want to use this piece elsewhere, that’s OK provided you acknowledge who wrote it and where it came from – and have the courtesy to at least ask Ross before reposting it.
So we have a shark swimming by and all of a sudden this surfer, Mick Fanning, sees it and decides to punch it, in spite of not seeing “any teeth”.
Yeah, all right, it sounds silly, but I’m thinking of applying for a job with the Murdoch empire and I’m just practising different ways of framing a story. In fact, I’m rather surprised that they didn’t run with:
“LABOR FAILS TO NOTICE EXCESSIVE EXPENSES FROM BISHOP”
“CARBON TAX ADDED TO COST OF HELICOPTER FLIGHT”
But enough about Bronhilda. When even Paul Sheahan and Andrew Bolt are criticising her, we know that she’s done for.
No, we have more important fish to fry. Apparently the impenetrable border has been penetrated.
Yes, in spite of all the safeguards and measures taken on Border Protection, some information has somehow found a way through, and it’s being reported that an asylum seeker boat has been sighted off the coast of Western Australia.
This report from our Canberra Man:
A spokesman for the Minister for Saying Nothing, Mr Peter Dutton, told the media that it remains government policy not to tell us about anything that they don’t want us to know, and when it comes to on-water matters, there is nothing they want us to know, apart from the fact that they’ve stopped the boats. When asked about the reported sighting, the spokesman reminded everybody that until recently Mr Dutton been Minister for Saying Almost Nothing About Health, and it would take him some time to catch up with all the aspects of his new portfolio, although any dual citizens better think very careful before they ask questions or report on boats that may or may not have been sighted by people who may or may not be in ASIO’s custody until they are sure that they didn’t see any so-called boats.
Greens Senator, Sarah Hanson-Young again made a fool of herself by suggesting that the Australian Government should stop keeping Australians in the dark, completely ignoring the fact that the Liberal’s 1975 election slogan was “Turn On The Lights” and that has remained their policy at all times, including during Earth Hour. Ms. Hanson-Young who recently sounded rather paranoid when she argued that Transurban staff were following her, just because one of them got lost and found himself in her hotel closet, has regularly shown her hypocrisy on asylum seekers by suggesting that children somehow have more rights than their adult parents, who according to the results of several elections, have no rights at all.
Attempting to contact DFAT for confirmation, we were told by the person answering the phone said that they couldn’t tell us anything as merely identifying them as a public servant in Canberra was enough information for every to realise that they were the only one left who actually answered phones because the others had all been made redundant. “I’ve been told that if I just lay low, it may be several weeks before anyone realises that I still have a job and I’m replaced by a consulting firm with links to the Liberal Party,” she whispered before the phone went dead.
A Liberal backbencher agreed to be quoted so long as it was off the record and we bought him a drink, saying that if these people wanted to come to Australia they should do it the proper way under the 457 slavery scheme, which was the prefered method of some employers because Australians had chosen not to work by rejecting WorkChoices. Two drinks later he suggested that the election would be held later this year, but the timing depended on when Turnbull looked like getting the numbers, which he assured us Malcolm wasn’t actively seeking because he had others doing it on his behalf. “Once Turnbull has more than ten votes, Abbott’ll be forced to call an election to stop the potential challenge. If I could just convince Malcolm not to do his best work in front of a mirror, we’d have the leadership by now.” Three drinks later, the MP appeared share his thoughts on helicopters by spinning a straw above his head and jumping from table to table, shouting “I’m a Speaker – do you f*ckers expect me to walk?”
Mr Abbott is expected to hold a press conference later this morning to announce an investigation into who leaked the reports of the alleged boat, and whether or not this fell under the definition of sedition under the new guidelines. Mr Abbott is believed to have privately told his closest allies that even if it didn’t, then heads would roll anyway, because the government can always expand the definition to include helping people smugglers by reporting on their existence, but this was said in the strictest confidence and they were all sworn to secrecy, so it was very difficult getting more than one person present to confirm of the leak. Someone at the meeting raised the dilemma of how they were going to justify talking about an increase in the GST, when they’d gone so hard on Labor being the party of taxation and the Carbon tax being a big new tax on everything, to which Mr Abbott is alleged to have assured the member that people forget things easily, and that by the next election people will have forgotten that you were ever a minister if you don’t stop bringing up difficult points.
Christopher Pyne contacted me to tell me that it was all a beat-up, would I please write something about his denial of anything at all, as he hadn’t been in the news lately and how else was he going to be thought of when they’re looking for a new Speaker, if he wasn’t the sort of high profile person that they need.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s decision to put his handpicked Speaker Bronwyn Bishop “on probation” demonstrates, as perhaps little else can, his contemptuous disregard for our Parliament and its processes.
As Speaker, it is Bishop’s job to discipline all MPs, thus setting the tone for parliamentary behaviour, and using the authority of her position to ensure that behaviour is within the guidelines and traditions of the Westminster system.
There is already considerable discontent abroad concerning the incompetent and biased manner with which Bishop has performed her powerful job. This latest scandal surrounding her dodgy use of taxpayer funds to enhance her lifestyle and feed her apparently insatiable sense of self-importance and entitlement ought to be the last straw.
It is unclear, at least to me, exactly what Abbott means by declaring Bishop to be “on probation.” Her expenses will be scrutinised for a period of three months perhaps? She will be obliged to stay away from helicopters and limousines for six weeks? How, exactly, is a Speaker of the House of Representatives put on probation and more importantly, how does a Speaker “on probation” retain any authority at all over any MP in that House?
A Speaker “on probation” cannot possibly remain a Speaker. A Speaker “on probation” has lost all her authority. A Speaker must be above being put “on probation” by her Prime Minister. The very idea is an insane notion that makes absolutely no sense in any known universe. It demonstrates Abbott’s utter contempt for the Westminster system he claims to revere.
Abbott assures us that Bishop is “contrite,” however, Bishop has given the public no indication of contrition at all.
Obviously, Abbott considers his Speaker to be at fault, otherwise there would be no talk of “probation” in the first place. The errors Bishop has made disqualify her from the extraordinarily demanding requisites of her position: a Speaker of the House of Representatives cannot authoritatively carry out her duties while “on probation,” and a Prime Minister who believes that is a satisfactory solution is demonstrating his profound contempt both for Australian voters, and the Westminster system of government over which he presides.
It’s time. For both Bishop and Abbott to go. Every day they remain is a further insult to this country and to our system of governance.
Now, Bronwyn Bishop has been getting a lot of bad press lately over her decision to save time by travelling by helicopter, when a chauffeur driven limonsine would have only taken her a mere fifteen minutes longer. Some people have even been comparing her to Peter Sllipper who was charged with fraud over his trips to some wineries. While this was overturned on appeal, there is a big difference between Mr Slipper’s actions and Ms Bishop’s.
Now, let me point out the big difference. Peter Slipper was accused of knowingly falsifying the records so that his personal trips appeared to be part of his official duties. Madam Speaker, on the other hand, was simply confused. She thought attending a Liberal Party fundraiser was part of her official duties as Speaker, and that’s such an easy mistake to make. The line between official duties and party activities is often unclear. For example, as Speaker, her role involves ensuring the smooth runnng of Parliament, and the less time that’s wasted with Labor “Points of Order” or “Questions” or “Speaking Against those Running the Country”, the more efficiently Parliament can run. Of course, there have only been a handful of Coaliton MPs thrown out; they’re not the ones trying to disrupt the Government’s mandate to make the country safe, with secure borders and sound economic management. The sort of economic management that understands that time is money and while fifteen minutes may not seem like a lot to you or me, for someone as important as the Speaker, this enables her to use those fifteen minutes doing something else. Like lobbying for a new job.
Of course, the other obvious point which people seem to be deliberately ignoring, is that the helicopter ride was not simply about saving money. Had she arrived by car – even a large disco party Hummer with all the lights on and music blaring – it is possible that not everyone would have noticed. As Speaker, Ms Bishop is used to making the sort of entrance that where everybody has to pay attention, and a helicopter ensured this.
Some have suggested that Ms Bishop is not adopting sufficient distance from the Liberal Party, when the Speaker is meant to be impartial. While precedent dictates that the Speaker doesn’t attend party meeting in the interests of demonstrating this impartiality, Ms Bishop feels that this inhibits her understanding of the tactics that will be employed by the various parties, and she is happy to attend the party room meetings of any of the political parties to find out what they’re thinking. However, neither the Labor Party nor The Greens will let her in, so that only leaves the Liberals, because the Nationals don’t count – or develop tactics. And the cupboard where the Palmer United Party now meet, only has room for two.
When it’s all said and done, the events of yesterday should be the end of the matter because Ms Bishop has now paid back the money from the helicopter trip, plus a fine, even though the travel was all “within the guidelines”. Which is extremely generous of her. It seems very magnanamous of her to pay that fine when she’s done nothing wrong.
Of course, this won’t make those clamouring for her blood happy. They’ll probably just ask her to pay back the cost of her overseas trip by arguing that it was also a lot of money, and now she’s started paying back things “within the guidelines” just because someone complained about the cost, hasn’t she set a precedent for herself?
No, some people won’t be satisfied till they’ve hounded the poor woman out of the Speaker’s chair. I suspect that they’ll stop at nothing with an election coming up in September (whoops, I meant, October. and I meant next year.) I mean, the Murdoch papers won’t want her there being a distraction from all the things that Tony’s done. We’ve got the terrorist threat for that!
Some little known facts about Bronwyn Bishop:
Her maiden name was “Setright”.
Originally, a Senator, she moved to the House of Representatives in the hope of launching a leadership challenge, which was thwarted when she realised that she’s actually have to get some of the Liberal Party MPs to vote for her.
The daughter of an Opera singer, she is an accomplished singer herself. As a lover of opera and musicals, she wanted all questions in Question Time to be put to the tunes from Gilbert and Sullivan, and was only dissuaded when she was reminded that various members of the Opposition had much better singing voices, and, as Speaker, she herself would not be allowed to sing.
She was not a member of Australia’s first Parliament, and only joined after it moved to Canberra.
If she hears any MPs refer to her as “Dolores” (Dolores Umbrage – a “Harry Potter” character), she makes them write out lines before they’re allowed back into Parliament.
She did not copy her hairstyle from Gary Oldman’s character in “Bram Stoker’s Dracula”, just her wardrobe and political style.
A picture can be worth a thousand words. Sometimes, you get tired of writing at length on the stupidities, mendacities and offenses of the Government, and the Tony Abbott government is giving us plenty of length to write. But sometimes it’s not the most literate or well-written essay or a finely-tuned turn of phrase that can have the greatest impact and be the most memorable criticism. Sometimes it takes a bit of sarcasm, or perhaps even a picture or two.
The following memes are thus offered for all to share. Feel free to copy, put them up on Flickr or Facebook or Google +. Distribute, copy, and feel free to suggest more.
“But in this chair, I will act impartially. That is the responsibility that goes back to 1377.” – Bronwyn Bishop
Bronwyn Bishop (nee Setright) was born in 1942, the daughter of opera singer Kathleen Congreve. She decided at a very young age that she wanted to become a politician, joining the Liberal Party at age 17 and the Killara Young Liberals in 1961.
She began a law degree but dropped out when she got engaged. Bishop first worked as an articled clerk and played an acting role as a barrister in the 1960s Australian television program Divorce Court.
She later gained her professional qualification from the Solicitors’ Admission Board and was admitted to practise law in 1967 as a solicitor, becoming a company director before entering politics in 1973 where she served in various roles as a Liberal Party office-holder until 1987.
In 1987, Bishop was the first woman to be popularly elected as a Senator for New South Wales. In 1989, Andrew Peacock made her Shadow Minister for Public Administration, Federal Affairs and Local Government. She proved an aggressive debater against the Australian Labor Party, particularly with Foreign Minister Gareth Evans.
In 1992, her 25 year marriage dissolved.
In a move widely seen as furthering her leadership ambitions, Bishop resigned from the Senate on 24 February 1994 to contest the by-election for the safe Liberal seat of Mackellar. She won the seat but Independent Bob Ellis gave her a scare, and Alexander Downer won leadership of the Liberal Party, with Bishop becoming Shadow Health Minister.
On her first day in the job, she announced her support for tobacco advertising. Her remarks were attacked by the then AMA president and soon-to-be Liberal MP for the neighbouring seat of Bradfield, Brendan Nelson, who said that: “Mrs Bishop has a lot to learn about health…there are now more than 50,000 pieces of medical research and literature supporting the view that smoking is injurious to humans.” Bishop was subsequently dropped from the portfolio.
In the Howard government, Bishop became the first Liberal woman from New South Wales to become a minister when she was appointed Minister for Defence Industry, Science and Personnel and later Minister for Aged Care.
The revelation that some residents at Melbourne’s Riverside private nursing home had suffered blistering after being bathed in a weak kerosene solution as a cure for scabies led to a national outcry over the standards of care maintained by Bishop’s department. She was dropped from the ministry after the 2001 election.
An affirmed monarchist, Bishop, supported the ‘No’ campaign leading up to the failed 1999 Republican referendum. In response to a physical brawl during a debate on Ray Martin’s Midday show, she issued a media release which said:
“It may well have been High Noon on the Midday Show when Ron Casey took a swipe at Normie Rowe but this conduct indicates just how divisive the debate on the Monarchy has become. Not content to see the country on its knees as a result of the recession the Labor Party must be pleased that it is dividing the community on an issue which has absolutely no political relevance.”
In 2004 she campaigned to succeed Neil Andrew as Speaker of the House, but was not successful.
In 2005, Bishop called for Muslim headscarves to be banned from public schools saying that “she is opposed to the wearing of the Muslim headscarf, where it does not form part of the school uniform. This is because that in most cases the headscarf is being worn as a sign of defiance and difference between non-Muslim and Muslim students” and then went on to say that she “does not believe that a ban on the Jewish skull cap is necessary, because people of the Jewish faith have not used the skull cap as a way of campaigning against the Australian culture, laws and way of life.”
After the Cronulla riots, Bishop introduced a bill which sought to make it “a criminal offence to wilfully destroy or otherwise mutilate the Flag in circumstances where a reasonable person would infer that the destruction or mutilation is intended publicly to express contempt or disrespect for the Flag or the Australian Nation.” I am not sure whether she ever expressed any concern for the innocent victims who were bashed by a bunch of drunken Aussie yobbos. The bill lapsed and did not go to the vote.
Shortly before the Howard Government lost office, Bishop headed the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Family and Human Services, and released the report “The winnable war on drugs: The impact of illicit drug use on families”. The report was highly critical of harm minimisation and suggested mandatory adoption of children under 5 years of age whose parents were known to use drugs. The report was widely criticised by a range of organisations such as Family Drug Support, the Australian Democrats and the Australian Drug Foundation for lacking evidence, being ideologically driven, and having the potential to do massive harm to Australia.
When Malcolm Turnbull was elected leader of the Liberal Party, he dropped Bishop from the Shadow Ministry, prompting her to say from the back benches “Malcolm seems to have been strong at the beginning but now he has gone soft.” When Abbott staged his leadership coup, Bishop was rewarded with elevation back to the Shadow Ministry for Seniors.
Since becoming Speaker of the House of Representatives in 2013, Ms Bishop has relished the power, using her position to stifle debate and showing unprecedented and unbecoming partisanship towards the government. Points of Order from the Opposition are ignored or dismissed. Their speaking time is cut short while members of the government are allowed to go on, and on, and on. Interjection or dissention from the Opposition sees them quickly ejected whereas it seems the Treasurer can completely ignore the chair’s direction with impunity.
May I remind the Speaker, for persistent defiance of the Chair, a Member may be ‘named’ by the Chair and a motion for the Member’s suspension (usually for 24 hours) may be moved.
Could I also remind the Speaker that an important part of your task is to protect the rights of individuals and minorities in the House and make sure that everyone is treated fairly within the framework set by the rules.
Allowing the leader of the Opposition to be called “Electricity Bill”, or the Shadow Minister for Education and Early Childhood to be referred to as “the princess from Adelaide”, is unacceptable. Gagging debate on infrastructure legislation and then making snide remarks at Mr Burke, implying Anthony Albanese appeared to have replaced him as Manager of Opposition Business, is not what you are there for.
“The former leader of the house, who is now apparently the acting manager of government – opposition business – has given the chair advice,” Ms Bishop said.
“The question is that the motion be agreed to. If the Manager of Opposition Business is raising a point of order to resume his status then it is acknowledged.”
Mr Burke responded with a dissent motion in Ms Bishop’s rulings.
“The comments that you made with respect to me would be interjections that were reasonable when you were merely in this House as a Member for Mackellar, rules that were reasonable for any minister to get up and try to make a half-funny, childish interjection,” he said.
“But you need to recognise, Madam Speaker, that you are meant to be impartial.
“You need to recognise, Madam Speaker, that the office you hold is greater and more important than your own political rhetoric.”
Perhaps you need to revisit the parliamentary guidelines on the role of the Speaker. You may find these few pertinent.
“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.
The Speaker supervises rather than participates in proceedings.
As a rule, Speakers have been sufficiently detached from government activity to ensure what can be justly claimed to be a high degree of impartiality in the Chair.
Members are entitled to expect that, even though the Speaker belongs to and is nominated to the position by a political party, his or her functions will be carried out impartially.”
Behind the Governor General, Prime Minister, state Governors and Premiers, Speaker of the House is the most prestigious position in our political hierarchy and it comes with significant reward. The Speaker receives an additional salary and expense of office allowance (slightly more than those of the majority of Ministers) in addition to his or her salary and allowances as a Member of Parliament.
In the British House of Commons the Speaker abandons all party loyalties. When governments change, the current Speaker is re-elected to office, and at general elections a Speaker is usually unopposed by the major parties. This is not the situation in Australia but Bronwyn Bishop is presenting a firm case for making it an essential change.
One could be forgiven for not knowing who Lucy Wicks is – even her electorate had never heard of her before she was parachuted into the seat of Robertson in a captain’s pick by Tony Abbott, bypassing the pre-selection process, much to the chagrin of the local Liberal Party membership:
“NSW State Executive of the Liberal Party have endorsed Lucy Wicks as the Candidate for Robertson. No preselection was held and the executive of the Robertson Federal Electorate Conference was not notified, only told that this was under consideration today. Nominations for Robertson have been open for 5 months, Lucy Wicks being a member of that State Executive that delayed nominations”.
The comments from local Liberals were scathing, as the above link testifies. A poster with the aptly-named persona of Back Room Deals summed up the sentiment thus:
“Lucy Wicks lives in Warringah, Tony Abbott’s electorate . . . hmm. Wicks nominated on Thursday and was rushed through NRC. Then the vote went to State Executive on Friday. The problem is that our leadership has shown no integrity in this issue. To fix the problem in Dobell, a problem of their own making, they take away the democratic rights of Robertson branch members. We will not stand for these tactics, there are 10 branches in Robertson . . . 10 branches with hundreds of unpaid foot soldiers who will walk away, let Head Office pay for the lot come the Election”.
Lucy then called in the big guns, hosting a morning tea at which Bronwyn Bishop spoke. This was the reaction from someone who attended that function:
“Lucy Wicks was totally uninspiring and seemed like an impressionable kid that didn’t have a brain between her ears. The helpers there all seemed like young Liberals that were nice, but really, did nothing to add any degree of credibility at all. Dressed like they came off a refugee boat. Doesn’t some-one give them a dress code at all? As for Bronwyn, she was the main star and Lucy apart from telling us she worked in a factory in the Central Coast really had nothing to say. And it showed. Bronwyn did all the talking and Lucy shut up which is just as well I think”.
Even though there was a 0.1 per cent swing against the Liberal Party, there was an even larger swing against the Labor sitting member, Deborah O’Neill, who in my mind was a hard-working MP who ably represented her constituents. 21.8 per cent of the vote went to the minor parties and Independents. Hardly a resounding victory for the Coalition.
“My question is to the Assistant Minister for Education. I remind the minister that childcare groups and parents in my electorate of Robertson have told me of the burden that the previous government childcare rules and regulations placed on costs for centres and parents. Will the minister tell the House how the Government plans to fix the red-tape mess and reduce costs?”
Up bounced Christopher Pyne’s sidekick, Sussan Ley, who seems to have learned her oratory skills from her Minister, to tell us that axing the carbon tax and cutting red tape would fix all the woes of the childcare system. Her proof of this was a couple of anecdotal stories about turning the lights off for an hour and eating individual cupcakes.
Perhaps Ms Ley is unaware of what her colleague in the NSW State Parliament is doing:
Community preschools across the state could be sent broke under changes to state-government funding for three-year-olds as daily fees nearly double for parents of the younger children.
The sector is warning many community centres will be forced to close under a new model that slashes funds for the age group in a bid to get more four- and five-year-olds into classes before they start kindergarten.
In what has been slammed as a further blow to the chronically underfunded sector in NSW, the Community Child Care Co-Operative claims one in three centres could be forced out of business if parents switch their children from preschool to cheaper long day care.
The report, by UNSW professor Deborah Brennan, said the state government would need to “substantially increase” investment in early education to meet its commitments as community preschools had been underfunded for “decades” compared to those in other states.
Ms Ley also failed to mention that the Coalition have cut $300 million from the Early Years Quality Fund:
A $300 million funding boost aimed at improving the wages of 30,000 childcare workers looks increasingly likely to be axed as the federal government continues to sit on the Labor-approved initiative.
The money was to be spent in 1100 childcare centres to bolster the meagre $19-an-hour wages of certificate III childcare workers by $3 an hour and early-childhood teachers by $6 an hour. The starting wage for a university-educated early childhood teacher is $42,000 a year.
The government wrote to childcare centres who had accepted the funding soon after winning office, revoking the conditional funding offers and advising it was reviewing the $300 million Early Years Quality Fund (EYQF).
Ms Ley did not specify what “red tape” would be removed, and when Graeme Perrett asked “What—you’re going to have free-range kids in the childcare centres!”, he was promptly ejected by our fearless arbiter, Bronwyn Bishop.
The National Quality Standard for Education and Care Services can be found in Schedule One which appears at the end of the Regulations.
Having glanced through them, I am not sure which of these guidelines could be dumped, and how that would improve the quality of the service. But then again, quality of education isn’t a goal of this government.
So it is with a great deal of trepidation that I reiterate the question asked by Lucy Who and could we please have some detail to your answer rather than “axe the tax and cut red tape” slogans.
“Will the minister tell the House how the government plans to fix the red-tape mess and reduce costs?”
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Prime Minister-elect, we’ve been through this! We’ve talked about it time and time again and we thought it was resolved. After you made the quip about the ironing and the housewives of Australia, remember? And those tricky historical abortion comments that kept cropping up and you couldn’t quite explain away? And the time you seemed to imply our unmarried female prime minister was somehow living in sin?
With due respect Jacqueline, and while realising that your topic is intended to be ironic, the attitude which espouses all of Prime Minister-elect Abbott’s attitude come from this from the heart remark:
‘I think it would be folly to expect that women will ever dominate or even approach equal representation in a large number of areas simply because their aptitudes, abilities and interests are different for physiological reasons’.
Again from Ms Maley:
You pointed out that you are surrounded by powerful women. You brandished your confident, intelligent wife and daughters. You promised us a paid parental leave scheme that – granted – made business blanch with horror, but seemed to show that you did indeed, “get it” when it came to women.
Yet all of these “confident, intelligent” women were given the rider of attractive, hot . . . sex appeal. Which brings us back to Abbott’s original statement that women, in general, do not have the aptitude, ability or interest “to even approach equal representation”.
I should imagine that those who somehow miraculously overcome their burden of the double X chromosome factor, and do have the aptitude and ability are those “door knockers” which Abbott currently is looking forward to – as long as they have ample sex appeal, I should imagine.
Bronwyn Bishop (BB) is, of course, the anomaly being endowed amply with what might be described as matronly dominatrix qualities, plus has the blessing of seniority and a certain upper-class quality; she should do well as Speaker.
BB comes under Abbott’s category of one of those rarest of the species, a woman with both aptitude and ability (although the latter is to be proven – in Opposition she did her best dealing with the lads out the back of the boys’ toilets attitude).
BB we are now told does not believe in Affirmative Action, on a philosophical basis. Or might it be to protect one’s own backside as needed, being one of the only women? BB’s pooh-poohing of Affirmative Action certain decreases the chances of other women entering the field as competition.
Julie Bishop (JB) on the other hand being the serial token woman for no less than three Liberal leaders, and renown for commenting on not very much pertaining to her portfolios, and then when she did made an utter mess of it. JB must then come under Tony Abbott’s category of “sex appeal”. At least it would seem that Abbott thinks so . . .
Apart from The Death Stare, the cat’s claws movement and a penchant for wearing extremely tight fitting and expensive Armani suits, I really do not know what JB’s field of expertise is, remembering that in ’09 she was forced to resign due to perceived incompetence, this coming from her own ranks – in the role of Shadow Treasurer – Hockey took over.
A few months later, Abbott became LOTO and in spite of numerous indications of incompetence such as being hauled up for not less than two reported “please explains” by the Indonesian Ambassador for spouting some Women’s Weekly style nonsense about Abbott’s-turn-back-the-boats, she obviously retained the pleasure of Abbott.
Not once did Abbott do-a-Howard and at least make an apology for this particular Shadow Minister.
As stated by Ms Maley:
To have such a women-poor cabinet is to either say that you deliberately overlook competent women because you are sexist, or to say there are no competent women in your ranks to promote in the first place. If the latter is the case, whose fault is that?
(“That’s just how it panned out” is the traditionalists’ defence of organisations that proudly appoint “only on merit” and find, time after time, that an astonishingly high proportion of the really excellent people also have willies).