What’s the point of Julie Bishop’s political existence?
Scroll back 15 months, to February last year, when she gracefully exited the shadow Treasurership under pressure from some less-than-graceful male colleagues. Admittedly, she’d made a hash of the position, and in record time, but she was still deputy leader, so she needed a senior portfolio. So she was hidden in Foreign Affairs, where usually only Greg Sheridan actually notices if you stuff up.
In fact the principle task of a Coalition foreign affairs spokesperson, either in Government or Opposition, is simple: keep The Australian happy, which means pretty much keeping Greg Sheridan and Paul Kelly happy.
Problem was, she did stuff up, and Greg Sheridan noticed. In August, in the sort of language Sheridan usually reserved for the limp-wristed shillyshalling foreign policy Leftariat, he excoriated her over the Opposition’s handling of the Stern Hu matter, saying of the Coalition “it has probably for the moment definitively forfeited the right to be taken seriously as an alternative government.”
In case you were left wondering, Sheridan emphasised the point, calling Bishop’s response “internally contradictory, unprincipled, amoral beyond even the exigencies of parliamentary hypocrisy and profoundly stupid. Bishop was a dud shadow treasurer and is now a dud foreign affairs spokeswoman.”
Bishop had followed first Andrew Robb, and then Helen Coonan, in the role. Robb was the only frontbencher to lay a glove on Rudd early in the term, but then was moved to climate change by Malcolm Turnbull. Coonan barely had time to get her feet under the desk before she was moved to make way for Bishop.
Now not merely has Bishop managed to reveal confidential information about national security matters, she’s made herself look a prize goose. Her defence is that she didn’t understand the question.The exchange went:
Bishop: “It would be naive to think that Israel was the only country in the world that has used forged passports, including Australian passports, for security operations.”
Tim Lester: “What – we do?”
Quite what part of “What – we do?” isn’t clear is something of a mystery.
A defence along the lines of “I was a prize dill overplaying my hand as always and I’ll try to exercise better judgement in the future” might at least have earned her some Abbott-style “hey at least I admit I lie under pressure” points.
It was a red-letter day for the Coalition on foreign policy because Tony Abbott addressed the Asialink National Forum here in Canberra yesterday, along with the Prime Minister. Asialink is a Melbourne-based centre for promoting Asian engagement.
While Rudd offered his usual foreign policy boilerplate, Abbott chose to use the forum to tear into Labor, assailing Paul Keating’s focus on Asia, celebrating John Howard’s foreign policy skills, and attacking Rudd over people smuggling, refusing to sell uranium to India and Rudd’s Asia Pacific Community proposal. Abbott accused Rudd of “unilaterally-conceived utopian visions”, “giving up” on APEC, and blamed him for failing to reverse the trend of fewer Australian schoolchildren learning a second language.
It’s not the first time Abbott has felt the need to launch partisan attacks over foreign policy. He used President Yudhoyono’s address to Federal Parliament in March to talk about the increase in people smuggling and damn with faint praise Rudd’s engagement with Indonesia “rather than nebulous new communities.”
It doesn’t matter a great deal in the scheme of things, really, but it’s a subtle indicator both of Tony Abbott’s view of foreign policy and what sort of foreign policy focus he’d have if he ever became Prime Minister.