News National Bronwyn Bishop might have sat in the Speaker’s chair for the last time

Bronwyn Bishop might have sat in the Speaker’s chair for the last time

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Cabinet Minister Scott Morrison says speaker Bronwyn Bishop has been consulting with colleagues about her future, as she faces continuing uproar from the opposition over her taxpayer-funded travel claims.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has also suggested Mrs Bishop is considering her position ahead of the next sitting of Parliament, in less than two weeks.

Labor wants Mrs Bishop to stand down while the Department of Finance is investigating her decision to charge taxpayers for a helicopter ride between Melbourne and Geelong to attend a Liberal fundraiser last year.

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The Opposition has raised fresh questions about Mrs Bishop’s decision to claim public allowances around the times she attended the weddings of two colleagues.

The latest is a $288 travel allowance claim from 2007 that Mrs Bishop submitted for the day she attended the wedding of Queensland Liberal MP Teresa Gambaro.

In an interview with Channel Nine, Julie Bishop acknowledged the Opposition will not let go of the matter when Parliament returns in less than two weeks.

“I understand that the Labor Party will seek to use this to destabilise Question Time for example, and I’m sure Speaker Bishop will take that into account as she considers her position,” she said.

Social Services Minister Scott Morrison has confirmed Mrs Bishop is speaking to colleagues about her future.

Mr Morrison said he could understand “the justifiable angst that Australians have about this issue”.

“There is a Department of Finance process that’s underway and I’m not one to offer public lectures to my colleagues on these things,” he said.

“The Speaker, I think, is consulting with her colleagues and I think that’s the appropriate place for those discussions to take place.”

Mrs Bishop’s spokesman said she did travel to Brisbane “in her capacity as committee chair” investigating the impact of illicit drug use on families, and met with an academic with experience in that area the day after the wedding.

“Travel by the Speaker as committee chair was done so within the rules,” the spokesman said in a statement.

Cabinet Minister Malcolm Turnbull took public transport to Geelong this morning, on the way to a media event in Torquay, and made a distinction between his travel choices and the Speaker’s helicopter trip.

Mr Turnbull posted photos on social media at the South Geelong train station, and responded to a question from a reporter about whether he had arrived in a helicopter by saying: “There was no aerial component whatsoever.”

Labor has also asked for documents to be provided to explain a $600 claim for flights she took to Albury in 2006, from where she travelled to former frontbencher Sophie Mirabella’s wedding in Wangaratta.

A spokesman for the Speaker said she was travelling on business related to her role as chairwoman of the parliamentary committee for Family and Human Services.

After the helicopter travel was exposed Prime Minister Tony Abbott said Mrs Bishop was on “probation” and he could understand public discontent about the trip.

The Speaker has repaid the $5,000 cost of the trip along with an additional 25 per cent penalty and maintains the charter travel was within her parliamentary entitlements.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said Mr Abbott could longer ignore the expenses “scandal”.

“This is a test of Mr Abbott’s leadership. He needs to act, this soap opera just needs to finish,” he said.

Analysis by Louise Yaxley

Bill Shorten
Opposition leader Bill Shorten referred to Bronwyn Bishop’s expense claims as a “scandal”.

Questions surrounding Speaker Bronwyn Bishop’s use of entitlements leave the Government vulnerable to being portrayed as out of touch.

Mrs Bishop’s use of taxpayer money has been attracting scrutiny for a fortnight and it is set to flare again when Parliament resumes in a week-and-a-half.

Labor is applying pressure by demanding Mrs Bishop produce documentation to show she was entitled to claim taxpayer funds for a flight to Albury the day before she attended her Liberal colleague Sophie Mirabella’s wedding in the same area.

The Opposition says if the committee approved the travel, then records should exist and be easy to produce.

If she can show that her travel was ticked off, then the Speaker would be in the clear for claiming the flight, but if it is not able to be found then she would face new pressure to pay back the money as the Prime Minister did in 2013.

The wedding travel means the media drags out the images of Liberal nuptials complete with Mrs Bishop in a veil.

But the Opposition is keen to keep the pressure on over her travel since she became Speaker in 2013 — especially the use of public money to attend a Liberal fundraiser in Geelong.

While Mrs Bishop paid back that money, she says it was within entitlements.

But the Finance Department is inquiring into that charter flight and two others and has not yet made a declaration.


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