Federal Speaker Bronwyn Bishop has been strongly criticised by her peers for her decision to charter expensive helicopter rides for Liberal Party fundraising events.
Speaking to The New Daily, six former state and federal Speakers described Ms Bishop’s decisions as “dumb”, “outrageous”, and an “exercise in stupidity”, with two saying it was up to the parliament to decide whether her actions were serious enough to cost Ms Bishop her job.
Despite Prime Minister Tony Abbott putting her on probation for committing what he called an error of judgement, Ms Bishop has so far refused to admit that her $5227 chartered flight to a Liberal Party fundraiser was improper.
Former NSW Liberal Speaker Kevin Rozzoli, widely regarded as an exemplar of impartiality, labelled the flight a “mistake” and said Ms Bishop had failed to grasp “the true essence” of her role.
“She is seen as a politically-biased speaker, which is what I don’t like about it,” Mr Rozzoli told The New Daily.
“Before I went into the Speaker’s job, I made a very careful study of the role. I read everything I could possibly find. I tried to immerse myself in the subject so that what I absorbed was its ethos.
“I don’t think Bronwyn’s done that and I don’t think she understands the first thing about it.”
As of June, Ms Bishop had evicted more MPs than in any other full term of parliament since 1993. The vast majority were Labor (361), with only six Coalition.
Almost every Speaker contacted by The New Daily agreed that Ms Bishop’s problems extend beyond the use of taxpayer money. Her perceived bias in the House of Representatives was the common concern.
The Opposition has demanded her resignation, clearly angered by what they view as unfair treatment in the House.
Labor Speakers echoed this call to The New Daily, but far more telling was the criticism from her Liberal peers.
“If you get ahead of yourself and you’re a bit too preoccupied with yourself, then you’ll get a serve. I think that’s what is happening,” former WA Liberal Speaker George Strickland told The New Daily.
Here is what Ms Bishop should do, according to those who have previously occupied the chair.
Anna Burke (Labor)
Federal Speaker 2012–2013
“Yes, she should resign.
“The situation has become untenable. She can’t even bring herself to apologise.
“I think it’s time we bring an impartial speaker to the House of Representatives.”
David Hawker (Liberal)
Federal Speaker 2004-2007
“It is up to the parliament to elect or dismiss the Speaker.”
Jane Aagaard (Labor)
NT Speaker 2005-2012
“Ms Bishop’s fate should be up to the parliament to decided, but I was shocked by her helicopter flight. I also thought [her attempt to deflect the allegations by attacking Opposition Leader Bill Shorten] was extreme for someone in her role. You certainly wouldn’t do that up here.
“I was very shocked to see Ms Bishop on Q&A and making some very strong party political comments. She really shows no interest in how people perceive her in that role.”
Fred Reibling (Labor)
WA Speaker 2001-2008
“I think it was an exercise in stupidity. In what world would you think that was okay? My electorate was in the Pilbara and I never felt the need to charter a helicopter to go anywhere.
“It’s up to the parliament, but it’s hard to imagine there will be too many members of parliament that would support her position.
“The way she runs the place isn’t how I would run it, and I don’t know of any other Speaker in Western Australia or federally that has ever thrown that many people out and is so biased.”
George Strickland (Liberal)
WA Speaker 1997-2001
“To be quite blunt, it is just dumb. It’s not [enough to warrant her resignation], but she should have enough bloody common sense to reflect on it and not put herself in that position.
“You’ve always got to be mindful that you are dealing with the public’s money. It’s not easy being in public life, but you’ve got to have your mind all the time on common sense. If you want to run the risk, that’s your bloody problem if you get caught out.
“She should reflect on it and make sure she puts herself in a position where she can’t get any more criticism.
Kevin Rozzoli (Liberal)
NSW Speaker 1988–1995
“She should limit her travel to matters which are directly related to the role of the Speaker, but I don’t think it is a hanging offence.
“The current Opposition is running a very risky cause. It is quite likely that buried somewhere in the records somewhere is one of their people who have done exactly the same thing.
“It is absolutely my thought that Australia should have a more impartial Speaker.
“The Speaker should remain aloof from day-to-day politics. You really should stay clear of events that are politically motivated … That’s why she made a mistake.”
-with Rose Donohoe, Sean McComish