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The continuing saga of Bronwyn Bishop

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:

  1. sack Bronwyn Bishop from the Speaker’s position and retain what little remaining credibility your government may have; OR
  2. 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.


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  1. Peter Ball

    all this smells of a Infamous Liberal Whitewash

  2. Blinkyewok

    Great article Ross. What did Bolt say about Abbott and Bronnie?

  3. gangey1959

    With a little bit of luck, aunty bronwyy will be the petard upon which tones is hoist at the next election.
    I always wondered who reviewed the pollies claims, but I didn’t expect the answer to be “no one”.

  4. Florence nee Fedup

    Abbott can’t sack a speaker, even a Madam Speaker. Not even sure it is OK for him to put pressure on her to go. What he can do, is say he will not be supporting her if a census motion or referral to the ethic committee was put forward.

    Abbott would get in my opinion undeserved kudos for doing so. No negatives for him doing so.

    Then one must question his actions at this time. Doesn’t seem to be the one to make the decision. Wants Madam Speaker, as she asked to be called to fall on her sword.

    One can imagine pressure being put on her by others.

    She will not go without demanding and getting a big role when she leaves. Suspect this is what is taking her so long to throw the towel in.

    Time is on her side.

    It is said that Abbott believes coming disruption at Labor National Conference will divert all attention from Madam Speaker and problems he has.

    Not sure why he thinks that.

    I am sure he has few stunts lined up and back for thre media for that to occur. After all, it is not only Stoljar and Heydon that has plans for Shorten.

    Abbott’s biggest anger at this time, would be the revelation about the speaker means he has to put his plans on hold. I suspect his timetable, leading up to calling an election is tight. Relies on bad NC for Labor. Back to parliament to get some IR bills rejected to provide a lever to call DD. The CEFC bill would do the job. but would draw attention to his failing DA.

    The next fortnight is probably the watershed for this government

    Time will tell..

  5. stephentardrew

    The Bishop Slipper connection is the only thing that matters.

    It is precedent and must stand.

    She has to go.

    If journalists are worth anything they must ask for her resignation.

    Yes I know naive fool.

  6. kerri

    Madam speaker is completely incapable of being non partisan! She treats Parliament as though it is her job to favour her own and punish all else! Why on earth would she have a problem with doing just exactly what She wants and charge the povs for the privilege of her grace and complete arrogance? Of course favouring the LNP is part of her job! So is kicking out as many ALP MPs as possible to give the LNP the benefit!

  7. king1394

    So how many Labor Party or Greens functions has the Speaker attended? Perhaps no one asked her, I’m sure she would have made heroic arrangements to carry out her official duties at other parties’ fundraisers.
    Perhaps at 72, Bronnie could be encouraged to retire? particularly if they offered her a sinecure of appropriate status

  8. Chris Peters

    Given the totally unacceptable response from Mr Abbott, I believe the matter should also be forwarded to the Governor General. It is apparent that Bronwyn Bishop no longer has the confidence of a significant number of Australians. Her actions, while morally acceptable on a technical point, are completely unethical. She is unfit to hold the position of Speaker and should be removed immediately. Her continued presence in parliament needs to be reviewed.

  9. Florence nee Fedup

    Not much nexus between Slipper and Bishop.She is right there.

    Number one, Slipper did stand aside after the case was bought by Ashby. The Rares Judgment found he had no case to answer.

    Slipper was then referred by whom we know not to AFP.

    Information was given to police by someone who went through old government records The trip to winery was not mentioned in Ashby action. Occurred long before Slipper became Speaker.

    Slipper was charged and convicted, only to be cleared by further court action.

    Slipper was cleared of all allegations made.

    At no time was Slipper accused of being impartial as speaker. In fact was a good speaker. Ran the house in tight manner.

    Bishop has been accused of being a speaker that doesn’t believe in being impartial. Allegations made, are during her time of sitting in the speaker’s chair.

    We have her taking a luxury helicopter to go a few kilometers, costing well over $5000. One could say, a stunt so she could make an impressive entry to a Liberal fundraising event.

    Beside the cost, it is hard for her to justify this travelling. Which by the way was from Northern Queensland to Melbourne. Comcars being used, and overnight accommodation. She attended no other business.

    It is not acceptable for any MP to claim for party fund raising events, let alone a speaker.

    Under the Westminster System, the speaker is supposed to remove themselves from day to day running of party. The speaker at all times must be seen as being impartial. In the UK, the resign from the party. Are not opposed in their seat at next election. We do not ave the numbers to make this practical.

    Up to this time, I beleive standing speakers no longer take part in party room meetings. Don’t attend. Definitely don’t take on role of chief fund raiser for the party. There is conflict of roles if one does.

    One can’t compared Slipper with Bishop.

    Abbott needs to come out, tell where he stands on the issue. Put himself up for some questioning from the media.

    Madam Speaker has been conducting fund raising events within her chambers. Has been making charted flights to many more.

  10. Mark Needham

    All, rorts, expenses and scams by All politicians, should be brought to an end.
    This is the chance, for the Australian people to finally stop being plundered by the “not worthy”, Bishop, shpould be charged for fraud, or at least dismissed for frivolity at the Taxpayers expense.
    All, that is, All.
    Mark Needham

  11. Jennifer Meyer-Smith

    Bronwyn’s position is untenable for the long and medium term. Although she will pretend resilience in the short term, she has already shown some insecurity by calling the Press Conference and announcing her decision to repay the money. If she was in the right, why repay?

    So it is important for the pressure to be kept on Bronnie until she breaks and resigns.

    This then, would cause a distinct split in Abbott’s armour coz afterall, Bronnie was his “captain’s pick”. Every little chink in the armour counts.

  12. David

    Good read Ross…I see a post on Twitter today from the AFP saying, after a huge amount of negative posts from social media. they have not abandoned investigating Bishop further but will await the result of the Departmental investigation.
    They did not say what they would do if the Department enquiry found for or against Bishop merely they would look at it ‘depending’. Hardly clarity but obvious face saving of sorts on their part.
    I have absolutely no confidence in Bishop being found to be at fault re the expenses by a friend of the Govt, one who lied about the kids overboard debacle, unless Abbot through Brandis instructs her so.
    Same applies to Brandis and the Feds.
    Corruption is rife within this Gov.

  13. Roswell

    I don’t think there’s been a time in Abbott’s prime ministership where he has displayed such utter weakness. And there’s been a few.

  14. Peter Stanton

    The Abbott government is looking more and more like a Gilbert & Sullivan opera

    The idiot Prince Tony peddling around on his bike leaving chaos behind him while being constantly manipulated by the evil Princess Peta.

    The pompous High Sheriff George plotting with the arrogant Cardinal. (He is the very model of a modern attorney general.)

    The bumbling High Chancellor Joseph constantly coming up with outlandish plans to taxi the peasants

    Court Jester Christopher bobbing up with outrages statements.

    Peter the jailer lurking in the shadows.

    The slave master Eric the Cruel threatening the peasants with his whip if they do not work harder.

    Queen Bronnie hovering over it all in her kerosene powered helicopter.

  15. Jennifer Meyer-Smith

    Peter Stanton,

    I like your list of characters of the current drama of Australian government. But you missed that slimy, smirking Scott Morrison, who is on his way to the chair at the International Criminal Court for Crimes Against Humanity in his former role of Minister for Immigration and Border Protection – and I also fear his ability to inflict pain on grassroots and vulnerable Australians, as Minister for Social Security.

  16. Denisio Fabuloso

    I once was underpaid by Centrelink for about 8 months. Something I didnt realize till a little later. They refused to adjust and make good the underpayment – even tho they admitted the mistake – on the grounds of ‘statute of limitations’. Not three weeks later they pinged me for what they said was a $180 overpayment… which they demanded I pay at risk of prosecution. I obvilously dont spend near enough time doing fundraisers and riding helicopters. It pays to be rich… dont it?

  17. ausross

    Thanks for the comments folks

    David – I have absolutely no doubt that the AFP shall conveniently forget about doing anything with the Bishop affair allowed to be buried by Finance under its Liberal-friendly Secretary.

    Blinkeyewok – here’s the post by Bolt

    Florence nee Fedup – the Speaker is appointed by the House which to all intents and purposes means the government of the day, and can be removed by a successful motion to the House.

    stephentardrew – while agreeing about the importance of precedent, and I said as much in a written complaint to the Commissioner of the AFO, as much as I hate to say it, there is an important and crucial difference between the Slipper and Bishop cases. The Slipper one revolved around the alleged claim that Slipper expressly asked the cab driver to split a bill or bills across multiple cab charges for the express admitted purpose of ensuring they are hard to find. The Bishop case revolves around a question of whether or not she was entitled to claim the expenditure and, sadly, the rules do not explicitly rule out claiming travel to attend party fundraisers so determining a case of potential fraud is much harder. That said, I believe the AFP has wimped out.

    Jennifer Meyer-Smith – that’s another story for another day. Absolutely disgusted in that piece of filth representing us in that way. He is a reprehensible bully.

    Chris Peters – the Governor General does not really appear have grounds to act in this matter. The GG’s constitutional reserve powers have been interpreted to mean powers to appoint, dismiss or refuse to do either, in relation to governments, not individual positions within a government. And to dismiss a government means a demonstrable loss of confidence in the government by the House. Curiously enough, when Kerr dismissed the Whitlam government, Gough had survived several motions of no confidence therefore did retain confidence of the House. The Speaker communicated that to the GG’s office but wasn’t getting a response. When he finally went to the GG’s residence to communicate that direct, Kerr refused to see him. Consequently Kerr could have claimed he was not away of said motions. Whitlam was strongly urged to refer the matter to the Courts and would certainly have won as the way in which Kerr acted was clearly unconstitutional but Whitlam counter-argued that government of the nation should not be a matter of the Courts but one for the electorate to determine so went to the polls. I am well aware that the GG received many complaints about the matter of Abbott’s alleged dual citizenship which certainly was a fundamental matter of the Constitution but has so far failed to make any response so I doubt any reference to the GG about Bishop would get any response.

    Quick update on the petition to the govt to remove Bishop as Speaker – now over 58,000 signatories.

  18. Jennifer Meyer-Smith


    the Statute of Limitations argument only works after 6 years, so if your situation is still within that period, you could attempt an appeal.

    Yes, I totally agree and am offended by what they say is – good for them, is not good for us. Scumbags, the lot of them.

  19. my say

    Having a government finance department looking at the travel rorts of Ms Bishop ,is like leaving the fox in charge of the hen house ,nothing to see here move along,

  20. O'Bleak

    Sir Pository could hardly condemn Lady Canker for rorting the system. If any one in parliament knows how to put the bite on the taxpayer it’s our own knight in shining lycra. The two are far more likely to be found discussing ways and means of extracting the most from any opportunity than curbing their excess. Heaven forbid they should become distracted by the nation’s interests and forget to steal at every chance. After all, one you miss is one you’ll never get back.

  21. mmc1949

    No, Chris Peters, BB’s actions are not “morally acceptable on a technical point”. That would be “legally”. Moral and legal are not automatically synonymous.

  22. Roger

    Pity that ‘committee’ doesn’t start with a ‘K’. It would then be a perfect acronym – ‘P.E.R.K.’

  23. ausross

    Roger – as it was PERC gave me a giggle

  24. Jennifer Meyer-Smith

    Yes Roger and ausross, I enjoyed the acronym also. Did they intend it, or were they too stupid to see the irony?

  25. lawrencewinder

    …and then I was reading a Charles Baudelaire description of the subject of a Toulouse Lautrec portrait and couldn’t get Bronnie “Pompadour-Kero” out of my mind.

    ” …. a perfect image of the savagery that lurks in the middle of civilization…from evil always devoid of spirituality…..” C. Baudelaire.

  26. David

    @Denisio….as in the AFP…Centrelink are a law unto themselves, will only get worse with Morrison at the helm

  27. ausross

    Bossa – I have been screaming about Abbott’s appalling expenditure record for about two years now. The man even tried billing us for his $10K worth of publicity tour for his stupid book before he was even Opposition Leader. At first his office tried to say it was all OK. Then he tried to claim it was just a mistake. Yeah, right. He just accidentally signed the forms for his office to claim his personal PR tour as electoral business. That probably happened just before he had to go and feed his flying pigs. And under the Minchin Protocols he was just allowed to quietly pay it back and the slate was wiped clean. However the BIshop stunt with the helicopter just to get to a party fund raiser takes the unbelievability factor to whole new levels which is probably why more is being made of that than of Abbott’s continuing abuses. Along with all the other pollies on both sides of the House abusing theirs as well.

  28. Tony Rabbit

    Alan Fels – the same person who came out before the NSW election to say that the electricity privatisation would be good for consumers because he looked at the data from other privatisations and jurisdictions!

  29. Aortic

    I was going to say how could she possibly sit on her perch in Parliament and pontificate on any matter with gravitas with this egregious breach of trust hanging over her head, and then I remembered who we were discussing. The woman’s hubris knows no bounds.

  30. Jennifer Meyer-Smith


    Yes, it will be very interesting to see how she handles Question Time after the parliamentary break. Meanwhile, the poor dear isn’t getting much of a rest, is she!

  31. Jennifer Meyer-Smith

    @Kaye Lee

    Since Joe has to fork out heaps of money for his legal fees in his defamatory case which, at the end of the day, just confirmed his preference for consorting with people with big bucks, I think he should be well tuned to the fact that an extra $20,000 for misappropriated taxpayer $$ is an achievable option, if he wants to avoid the humiliation that his colleague, Bronnie Bishop is facing.

  32. ausross

    Kaye Lee – that just emphasises the fact that there is no real audit of expenditure by our politicians. Finance happily pay out on just about anything without question. And until such time that we have a proper independent oversight function with continuing audit then that sort of abuse is going to continue. And the upper echelons on both sides of the House shall quietly let it be forgotten in the wake of future dramas.

  33. Jennifer Meyer-Smith

    “continuing audit” sounds like a plan, ausross. Once is never enough. Continual vigilance and accountability is what will make every office bearer take full and frank responsibility for their office management for the sake of the Australian people.

  34. ausross

    A fundamental of tax law is that in order to claim something as a tax deduction as a work related expense, the taxpayer has to be able to show a nexus to the workplace and the expense contributing to earning income. You cannot just walk into the local branch of your organisation, call out hello then spend the next three days on a boozefest at a casino and then using that visit to the branch as justification for claiming the whole trip as a work expense and tax deduction. We could do much worse than having the exact same principle relating to electoral expenses rather than the current wishy-washy rules. Clearly relying on all politicians to ensure that their claims are ‘reasonable’ and ‘defensible’ as currently required by the applicable rules has been and shall continue to be a colossal failure. I have do doubt that there are those that do the right thing but as we have seen all too often, that does not mean all do.

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