Bishop is a major force in the Liberals' right-wing. Abbott was only ever a minor-to-middling figure. In the late 1980s, when Abbott was a seminary dropout admiring the doomed NSW ALP government of Barrie Unsworth, Bronwyn Bishop was NSW State President of the Liberal Party.
She has been raising money and otherwise supporting rightwing Liberals continuously since that time, building and maintaining an impregnable base among conservatives. He has only been doing general fundraisers for the party as a whole the last decade or so. He's the one on P-plates, not her.
She has been intimately involved in every challenge for the leadership since the late 1980s; since he entered Parliament in 1994 he has voted the way she told him to vote, including the 2009 ballot in which he was a candidate. His victory in that ballot over not one but two moderate leaders owes more to her tactical shrewdness and hard work than his dumb luck.
In recent days, journalists have dug into the paper trail left in Bishop's wake, recording her helicopter trip here or limo trip there, questioning what "official business" she might have transacted on a given day in Hawthorn or Geraldton or wherever. Digging this stuff up can be hard; this hard work should be recognised - but no more so than, say, digging up a road or preparing a tax return from a shoebox full of receipts.
What those journalists have missed, of course, is the context.
Bishop, as with most politicians, knows that you have to put yourself about if you want to build and maintain your base. The reason why the rules on parliamentary entitlements are like that, and why they won't change much, is because politicians from all parties agree that you have to travel a lot to maintain your base.
To most people, there is a clear delineation between work and social events. The social events that political parties stage as fundraising events are designed to be social for those contributing money. For the politically ambitious, they involve all the performance-indicator aspects of work with the addition of social skills like seeming pleasant, knowing who to chat to (and if they're really important, how to chat to them) and not drinking as much as you might at a purely social event - particularly if you're going to many such events in a day.
For most people, a golf course is unambiguously a social place, different from Bishop's workplace in the green room under the hill in Canberra. Bishop regards her job as going where her job requires: Collaroy, Launceston, Ottawa, wherever. She has been in politics so much and for so long that she is genuinely astonished that turning up to a fundraiser might lie outside a reasonable definition of a politician's "work".
Political journalists also travel a lot. If there's an announcement in, say, Adelaide, journalists not based in Adelaide will have their travel costs there met by others. So too will those doing the announcing, and any politicians having to stand in the background nodding during the announcement. Every time there's a kerfuffle about travel entitlements, politicians and journalists alike are unprepared: both groups, regardless of employer/party, are keen to bury any such story as soon as possible.
Forget about an independent chair. And forget about a system of accountability where the executive arm is subject to the scrutiny of the legislative arm. These were rarely delivered anyway, and right now, they are not even worth pretending about."Right now"? How about: at no point whatsoever in almost two years since the last election. Has Kenny been asleep? Is he, like his press gallery colleague Katharine Murphy, just waking from some two-year slumber (but, like Murphy, rolling over and going back to sleep after realising it's all to hard)? Seriously: have you been paying any attention at all to Australian politics over recent years?
Leaving aside her past performance in the chair, the PM's "P" plate declaration makes her no different from any minister in his team.Garbage. His opinion of Rudd, Gillard and their ministers was even lower, and their political standing was independent of "his team". And: "leaving aside her past performance in the chair"? That performance is the issue here. He's not just missing the point, he's attempting to shun it by sheer force of will.
The terms of Bishop's engagement are identical to theirs: if she displeases him, she's gone. No other criteria are relevant.This is bullshit.
She displeased him when she sought to ban head-coverings in the public galleries of the House of Representatives. It took days for her to back down, days when he copped public opprobrium on her behalf.
Joe Hockey stuffed up the delivery of the 2014 budget and has not yet secured this year's, putting the fate of the government and the economic well-being of the nation in peril. Malcolm Turnbull niggles about the one issue Abbott has left, national security. Both of them have a secure political base, within and beyond the Liberal Party, which Abbott doesn't have. Bronwyn Bishop also has a secure base, and it shows: nobody is voting to replace her with an empty chair.
Bronwyn Bishop has held a few press conferences in her time, so why was the one she held last week such a disaster? Because she couldn't be bothered. She was blithe with what she thought was a non-issue, she was rude with journalists to whom she owes nothing. Look who is copping the full force of public scorn: Abbott, and easy-come-easy-go Coalition MPs in marginal seats. Look who isn't: Bishop. She didn't care, and nobody could make her care.
People with real power don't cop flak. Gina Rinehart benefits from the abolition of the mining tax and our continuing reliance on coal: Abbott cops the flak for making those things happen. Bronwyn Bishop still has her cushy job: Abbott cops it every day she stays. If she goes the new Speaker won't be as protective of his clumsy ministers as she has been, and he will have a relentless enemy on the backbench. This is why Kenny is flatly wrong in his analysis: his "Right now", and "Leaving aside her past performance in the chair", and "No other criteria are relevant" are simply the wrong ways to view the situation before us.
This is hardly the institutional arrangement one would choose if genuine independence were of any import.For almost two years Abbott has behaved as though they were of no import - even more if you include his disgraceful treatment of the Speakers in the last two terms of Parliament. Has Kenny only just noticed? Is he blind, or stupid?
On the plus side, it might now be said that there are effectively three women on the Abbott frontbench rather than the paltry two we knew of: a Ley (Sussan) and two Bishops (Julie and Bronwyn).Throwing Bishop in there does not make anything more effective, or less paltry. Quite the opposite, in fact.
Then there is the separate but equally important question of the role of the Speaker as chief guardian of parliamentary standards.Again, this happened ages ago - where have you been? Did you not notice the shambles of accountability from a government that thinks it is above it? This is not a new thing, and you are not entitled to pretend that it is.
That too has been trashed.
In refusing to make the Speaker repay wrongly claimed travel entitlements for attending a colleague's wedding way back in 2006, Abbott has both endorsed her defiance of proper standards and rendered hollow his own efforts to salve an offended public.So: he wants her to pay back the money, she won't pay - that tells me she's the one who has prevailed, not him. She's the one with the power, not him. That "P-plate" designation looks like more bullshit from Abbott rather than anything that meaningfully limits her, officially or otherwise. Kenny has it arse-about.
This goes to the question of privilege, which is the core problem for this government:
- A bad government has all of the privileges of office while shirking the responsibility to govern well.
- Julia Gillard was accused of acquiring the privileges of a new bathroom from AWU members who hoped their membership dues might be spent on them. This accusation was not proven, but Abbott was happy to create the impression.
- George Brandis, Bronwyn Bishop, Barnaby Joyce, Joe Hockey, and the late Don Randall all claimed travel entitlements for journeys that were loosely, if at all, tied to their official responsibilities. Bishop has been asked to pay back a small fraction of these.
- Joe Hockey sued a media outlet unsuccessfully, obscuring his efforts with the 2015 budget and casting doubt over his judgment and economic nous.
- Christopher Pyne proposed a number of reforms to his portfolio area, Education. He is seen to be the government's master tactician in parliamentary matters, yet his reforms have been rebuffed by the Senate. He is the senior Liberal from South Australia, a state ravaged by decisions made by this government on cars and shipbuilding; he has fixed nothing for his constituents or their neighbours. Rather than redouble his efforts he has instead written a book about himself, and is using interviews that could be used to promote the government's message to instead plug his book.
- When the going gets tough, the tough go skiing (note that Abbott's family was not present as the Murdoch tabloid claims, and that Frances is Abbott's daughter, not Credlin's).
- The Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption failed to make the case that Bill Shorten had misused the privileges of office in the AWU for his own benefit, strengthening him as the alternative to the hapless, self-indulgent Abbott.
- The onus is on the government to both a) curb its own self-indulgent behaviour and b) point out even worse instances of it by the alternative government, and c) fend off independents and minor-party challengers protesting said self-indulgence. I bet it can't succeed at all that, but then I'm biased against this government. Those who aren't require vast reserves of faith in the ongoing acumen of Bishop, Abbott, and other members of this government.
Abbott is powerless in the face of self-indulgent behaviour. He is not keeping his powder dry, he has no powder. Once the backbench realise this he is finished.
Remember, he already, repaid his claimed travel allowance for the same event.Well, he said he did - and the journos believed him!
This bizarre situation reveals that even the pretence of impartiality in adjudicating the people's house has been abandoned and the pantomime of probity has ended with it.The very idea that Bronwyn Bishop might be an impartial Speaker was always rubbish. Mark Kenny should have been smart enough not to fall for it. The proof against the idea has been very strong for years now, without any countervailing proof for it. Having not been smart enough to see through Abbott rhetoric, Kenny is too proud to admit he's been gulled, and pretends that Bishop's unfitness for office is a recent development.
And for that matter, why not make the Speaker a formal cabinet post? Don't think for a moment Bronny wouldn't accept it - even now, amid all of this.A stupid end to a stupid article, by someone who has spent so long covering politics he doesn't even understand what Cabinet is.
The Cabinet sets the policy course for the government. The only person who has been brought into the cabinet since 2013, Sussan Ley, is there because she has superior policy and political skills to the only person who departed it, Senator David Johnston. Bishop is 72 years old; she would take a seat for which others half her age have made a stronger case. The fact that Kenny - alone - considers her a serious candidate underlines both his incompetence, and Bishop's enduring power. That power undermines the premise of Kenny's article. It undermines his already thin credentials as an analyst of our political situation.
Kenny is trying to be flippant about a story that he doesn't believe is a big deal, but which clearly is bigger than he can imagine. It's big because it goes to the question of what The Narrative is, and who sets it. Before 2013 the press gallery narrative was that the government was dishonest and incompetent. This government is dishonest and incompetent too, but also has a ferocious sense of self-entitlement - and this narrative is being imposed upon the press gallery by the facts at hand, rather than people like Kenny coming to their own conclusion and agreement. The press gallery has lost control of the narrative. Maybe Kenny should give up and go skiing.
This government has always been self-indulgent and lazy, and so has the press gallery that covered it. The press gallery is not entitled to pretend this self-indulgence, and incompetence, is a new development and one the gallery can be forgiven for not noticing. Their observations are becoming less valuable as each day passes, which is why their circulation, influence, and financial viability are in terminal decline.