Clive Palmer looked surreal in his video lampooning of Bronwyn Bishop last week, his face distorted by the close up shot as he sang for nine seconds, “Bye bye Bronnie goodbye. Bronwyn goodbye.”
But the grotesqueness of the send up strangely matched the worst Speakership I have witnessed in 27 years of covering parliament. In the end the foray into brazen entitlement collapsed in on its own hubris.
Not that you would get a whiff of this reality from the Prime Minister’s performance at a press conference announcing the news. You could be excused for thinking that a national hero had done the unselfish thing for the good of us all. A martyr to the institution had been forced from office to save its good name.
That certainly was the way a delusional member for Mackellar framed it in her farewell statement.
“I have not taken this decision lightly, however it is because of my love and respect for the institution of parliament and the Australian people that I have resigned as Speaker.”
This would be from the same person who trashed even the pretence of a Speaker being an impartial guardian of the parliament’s reputation as the expression of our democracy. Not the Liberal Party’s good name, but the parliament’s.
Close to 400 Labor MPs were evicted. A record. Catcalling or interjections from the government side ignored. The standing orders on strict relevance in answers ignored for ministers.
It was always a mistake to make such a partisan warrior of hard-line conservatism Speaker. Mr Abbott felt he had little choice. The Howard years showed that giving her a ministry was too risky. She pressed her friend and ally remorselessly for the job as a consolation. A sense of entitlement to the lurks and perks of high office a driving ambition.
That leader of the house Christopher Pyne could defend her as a “good Speaker” was a sick joke. Independent MP Andrew Wilkie derided it as such. He pointed out that, at face value, fraud against the Commonwealth had been perpetrated and deserved at the very least a police investigation. The Abbott Liberals were relentless in demanding as much for one of her predecessors, Peter Slipper.
Mr Abbott has now announced a root-and-branch review of parliamentarians’ travel entitlements and expenses.
Indeed that’s where the weight of his news conference was. Ms Bishop almost an after thought. But the fact of the matter is, as former PM John Howard used to say, you can’t legislate to make dishonest people obey the rules. The sheer scale of Bronwyn Bishop’s pushing of the envelope was breathtaking.
The Murdoch Sunday tabloids were probably the last straw in the case against her. They revealed almost $260,000 over five years on limousines. Comcars and taxis were no good – they couldn’t use Sydney’s bus lanes.
In the end Bronwyn Bishop’s failure is a shared one by her Prime Minister.
As several government backbenchers have privately lamented to me, he has failed to become a convincing Prime Minister.
Like Ms Bishop, he has found it too hard to shed his narrow partisan view of the world. Opposition suited him better. The poor handling of the Speaker saga just more evidence of it.