News National How it became checkmate for Bronwyn Bishop

How it became checkmate for Bronwyn Bishop

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Let’s call it the political equivalent of a sophisticated chess game.

In November 2013, Tony Abbott became the first Australian prime minister to personally nominate a Speaker of the House of Representatives.

“She is a formidable character,” he said of Bronwyn Bishop.

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“And I can think of no one more likely to deal with all of the other formidable characters in this place without fear or favour.”

However, the nomination of the veteran Liberal party warrior was met with contempt by Labor MPs.

Backbencher Graham Perrett reminded the chamber that Mrs Bishop had never apologised for having supported a 2011 anti-carbon tax rally in which protesters held signs critical of Julia Gillard which read “Ditch the witch” and “Bob Brown’s bitch”.

Mrs Bishop always had the ear of the PM. Photo: AAP
Mrs Bishop always had the ear of the PM. Photo: AAP

Within two weeks Labor was complaining about her anti-opposition bias, moving its first dissent motion against her.

Since then there’s been a second dissent motion and a no confidence resolution, both of which were blocked by the government.

Her scorecard for question time sin-binning is 393 Labor – to seven coalition.

There has been a litany of questions about her use of the Speaker’s suite in Parliament House for Liberal functions and her spending of entitlements, especially on lobbying for an honorary role heading the global parliamentary speakers’ club.

Tony Abbott and Bronwyn Bishop have been intensely loyal to each other for their entire political careers.

So it was not entirely unexpected he would stand by her until the very end.

However, voters would be right to be confused about whether the prime minister really thinks the Speaker has done anything wrong.

“What has become apparent, particularly over the last few days, is that the problem is not any particular individual; the problem is the entitlement system more generally,” Mr Abbott said.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten says it’s Mrs Bishop’s “addiction to privilege” that is the real culprit.

“Mrs Bishop hasn’t resigned because it was the right thing to do, it was because she and Mr Abbott realised they had no other choice,” he says.

The prime minister has been marked down for a number of “captain’s picks” since the election, most notably reinstating knights and dames.

Coming polls are likely to again mark him down for not acting swiftly on the Speaker.

However, Liberal strategists will be happy for the issue to have been neutralised, especially as the prime minister considers a possible early election.

The government was being seriously starved of oxygen by the scandal, as it seeks to forge a second term agenda based on the theme of economic security and national security.

Labor will still be insisting, when parliament resumes on August 10, on the government explaining Bishop’s checkmate.


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