Parliamentary speaker Bronwyn Bishop is finding herself politically isolated as politicians from across the parliament call for an explanation into her alleged use of taxpayer funds for a luxury helicopter flight to a Liberal party fundraiser.
Labor has called on the Australian Federal Police (AFP) to investigate whether Mrs Bishop has a criminal case to answer after she claimed the $5000 flight to Geelong from Melbourne on expenses last year. The Greens have also referred the claims to the Auditor-General.
The speaker announced on Thursday she would repay the cost of the flight plus a $1300 penalty.
Few are siding with the embattled speaker, who has been publicly silent since the matter was referred to the authorities. She has not returned calls from The New Daily.
Treasurer Joe Hockey called for an explanation from Mrs Bishop while Social Services Minister Scott Morrison declined the opportunity to offer her his public support.
Labor has stopped short of calling for the Speaker’s resignation, unless it’s proven that Mrs Bishop claimed the chartered flight to a Liberal fundraiser as being for ‘official purposes’.
Speaker’s woes could bite Abbott
In a statement on Friday, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said putting Mrs Bishop in the Speaker’s chair was “one of Tony Abbott’s most famous captain’s calls” and that it reflected on him poorly.
“She was his personal choice and her conduct as Speaker is entirely his responsibility,” Mr Shorten said.
“It’s time for Tony Abbott to say if he continues to have confidence in Bronwyn Bishop as Speaker – this is a test of his leadership.”
In 2012, as opposition leader, Mr Abbott described then speaker Peter Slipper as “the prime minister’s creation”, referring to then prime minister Julia Gillard.
“This Speaker’s standards are this prime minister’s standards,” Mr Abbott said at the time.
The former speaker faced allegations he used taxpayer funded cab charges to visit Canberra wineries, restaurants and hire cars.
He was also accused of sexual harassment by ex-political staffer James Ashby, who later dropped the case.
Mr Slipper successfully appealed the dishonesty convictions in February this year.
Mrs Bishop is yet to comment on the alleged misuse of entitlements and the official documents have not been made public.
Treasurer Joe Hockey this week conceded it was “not a good look” for the speaker.
Opposition finance and business spokesman Tony Burke, who has faced off with Mrs Bishop countless times in the parliament as manager of opposition business, yesterday described the attitude of the speaker and the government as “the born to rule mentality gone mad”.
“For the life of me, I don’t see how anyone argues that a political party fundraiser is part of the official job of being the speaker of the House of Representatives,” Mr Burke said.
“And I certainly don’t understand how anybody – if they were paying for it with their own money – would say the best way to get from Melbourne to Geelong was in a luxury helicopter.
“If this form has been signed in a way that provides false information, than there are criminal consequences that apply.”
Time for an entitlement crackdown?
In the aftermath of the helicopter controversy, independent senator Nick Xenophon will introduce legislation to establish a new watchdog to oversee MP entitlements when parliament resumes in three weeks.
The changes could include an independent assessor of MP entitlements and a requirement for politicians to pay back double the amount – instead of the current 25 per cent penalty – if they make a mistake on a claim.
The public will also be able to lodge complaints under the senator’s proposal.
“Unless you change the system of political entitlements, politicians will continue to be the most hated occupation in this country,” Senator Xenophon told The New Daily.
“Let’s have an independent umpire for parliamentary entitlements.
“Members of the public have a right to make a complaint.”
Senator Xenophon is also calling for federal MPs and senators to fly economy class for domestic flights or flights under two hours.
The office of speaker Bronwyn Bishop and Prime Minister Tony Abbott were contacted for comment.